In my novel, The Miscreants, one of the main characters is obsessed with the Plague. He takes a romantic view. Already an outsider, he imagines the destruction of the world that has rejected him, a just and rapid depopulation that will leave space for himself and the other Chosen. As his girlfriend at the time points out, plagues are indiscriminate and he is as likely to die as anyone else, but the argument is lost on him. It has, of course, nothing to do with logic. What he really wants is revenge and confirmation that he is special. Coupled with the need for a community of other outsiders, it is this that draws him into the cult that he loses himself in.
As with the plague, I have long been fascinated with alternative religious communities that threaten excommunication and worse on those members who question or reject their exotic and rigid world views. I watched the comet Hale–Bopp pass in 1995 and like most other observers was incredulous to learn that the Heaven’s Gate group had taken this as a prompt to kill themselves as a means to ascend to the spaceship they believed was trailing behind it. Further reading revealed other groups whose politics and beliefs led to abuse, mass suicide and murder – the Peoples Temple, Branch Davidians, Aum Shinrikyo and Solar Temple – and I became obsessed with how people ended up in such a situation, willing to commit violence against themselves and others for such improbable beliefs.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the proliferation of cult-like conspiracy theorists feeding off the chaos of it, it is tempting to frame my novel as prescient. But I don’t see this as the case. Every age and culture has feared its own annihilation, whether by eternal eclipse, endless winter, the Last Judgement, asteroid strike, nuclear holocaust or global warming. The particulars of these ideas aren’t really important. What I feel The Miscreants is most about is longing, that driving need that comes to many of us around the same time as we grasp the truth of our mortality. A longing for community, acceptance, love, sex, transcendence. There is a god-shaped hole in all of us that we try to fill with whatever comes to hand, divine and sordid. To you, reader, I humbly offer my own filler. I hope with all my heart that you find some recognition and comfort in it.