Stanley Johnson’s novel about a deadly virus that breaks out in New York will be reissued this summer, amid accusations that the prime minister’s father is attempting to “cash in” on the coronavirus pandemic.
Published in 1982 but long-since out of print, The Virus – originally titled The Marburg Virus – will now be reissued by independent publisher Black Spring, an imprint of Eyewear Press.
In a new afterword, Johnson writes: “Will the fight against Covid-19 be as successful as my fictional hero was in fighting the Marburg virus? ... Thinking back to my own book, and its eventual happy ending, I can’t help feeling that governments around the world, our own included, need to be ruthlessly focused on the search for an antidote or a vaccine.
“Without in any way diminishing the importance of precautionary measures of containment or mitigation, mass immunisation would surely prove a crucial factor in stopping the spread of Covid-19 or in preventing further outbreaks, eg the ‘second wave’ we are hearing about.”
The Guardian quoted Johnson’s agent Jonathan Lloyd as saying the novel did not get a positive response from publishers until Black Spring responded.
“You would think it was a no-brainer, that a publisher would jump up and down at a novel that is already edited and ready to go,” he said.
“They are entitled to their opinion, I just found it rather disappointing. They may well live to regret it, but that is the fun of publishing … you may not agree with Stanley and his politics, or his son, but it is a jolly good thriller and it is extraordinarily valid today. If anyone thought ‘I’m not going to buy it because I don’t like Stanley Johnson’, I think that is rather pathetic.”
When news that Johnson was seeking a new publisher emerged, QI writer and author Andrew Hunter Murray tweeted: “Newsflash: the baton for ‘Most opportunistic member of the Johnson family’ has been grabbed by Stanley in some style.”
Johnson responded to accusations of opportunism by asking The Guardian: “Is it opportunistic for journalists and newspapers to be writing about the coronavirus?”
The reissue of The Virus will be published in print and ebook format.
Johnson’s son Boris is currently under scrutiny for what has been deemed a “confusing” new set of rules for the public during the UK-wide lockdown.
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