Lockdown in Literature

March 20, 2023
A photograph of a sign. One one arrow, text reads: Corona. On another, text reads: Lockdown.
Photo by Jens Maes / Unsplash

There has been plenty of handwringing among some over whether it’s too soon to write pandemic literature, but these five books answer that question with a firm no. Each is set in the lockdown days while being about so much more than the pandemic.

Louise Erdrich

The Sentence

Harper, 2021

Louise Erdrich’s most recent novel begins on All Souls’ Day 2019 and ends on All Souls’ Day 2020. Set in Minneapolis, the characters are connected by the independent bookstore where some of them work, which is haunted by the store’s most annoying customer. It’s the early days of the pandemic, and the community is soon grieving George Floyd’s murder in a country that “crept along beneath a pall of sorrow.”



Catherine Ryan Howard

56 Days

Blackstone, 2021

In this crime drama from Ireland, Ciara and Oliver meet in a supermarket line in Dublin and begin dating just as Covid-19 reaches Ireland. They soon move in together, and their isolation provides the setting for a mystery.





Elizabeth Strout

Lucy by the Sea

Random House, 2022

Lucy Barton leaves New York City and joins her ex-husband, William, in lockdown in Maine in Pulitzer Prize–winner Elizabeth Strout’s most recent novel. Strout has written earlier novels featuring Lucy Barton, and various other characters that come and go across the different books, but each book stands on its own.




Gary Shteyngart

Our Country Friends

Random House, 2021

Gary Shteyngart’s most recent novel, Our Country Friends, is set in upstate New York, with a group of friends gathering to form a quarantine pod during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Chekhov meets The Big Chill in this novel Salman Rushdie called Shteyngart’s “most moving.”




Carley Moore


Feminist Press, 2022

While Strout and Shteyngart’s characters left their cities, the narrator in Carley Moore’s autofiction, Orpheus, stayed, biking her way through Manhattan and Brooklyn. A disabled woman who longs for her ex, whom she calls Eurydice, Orpheus seeks companionship in the loneliest days of lockdown. Michelle Tea called Panpocalypse “a masterpiece of fierce queer honesty.”




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Editorial note: For more ruminations on the Covid-19 pandemic, check out the twenty-two pieces from around the world online in our “Pandemic Dispatches” blog series and our Summer 2020 “Notes from the Cataclysm” issue.