In the middle of Covid-19, a title like that … But Asa Ericsdotter published the epidemic in 2016, so the suspicion of opportunism does not hold, nor the hypothesis of a divine coincidence. And in fact, this novel does not imagine a health virus but a political dystopia: Sweden, supposedly a welfare state, lets itself be convinced by its brand new and dashing Prime Minister, bridgehead of the Health Party, that it can become the healthiest nation in Europe. The condition: eradicate obesity which, he says, has taken on the proportions of an epidemic in the country.
The program is dry like a stroke of a stick: diet for all (exit sweets, fats), sport in high doses, enemas, subsidized bariatric surgery … And sanctions: dismissal for those who do not lose weight fast enough, exclusion of children schools. The case goes like a letter to the post, anti-big hysteria seizes the population. Beware of the rebels.
Landon Thomson-Jaeger is one of them. Young researcher, specialist in the United States, he loves to eat and cook – “If there was one thing that made him forget his job, it was the casseroles that demanded attention from the stoves”. Balance sheet, an IMGM of 41. However, “The body fat and muscle index had become the Health Party’s best weapon. It was the IMGM that determined the aptitude of people for their profession. An IMGM of 42 prohibited them from exercising a profession in the public sector” To escape the vice that closes over him, Landon goes to his parents’ country house. It’s also to forget Rita. Rita, her love who set about applying the anti-obesity program to the letter (even though she is not suffering from it), sacrificing their apartment like their lives. “There were dumbbells, Pilates elastics, exercise books and luxury magazines with cabbage smoothie recipes everywhere […]. Rita was no longer in the kitchen, and a sour odor of acetone came out of the bathroom. “ Rita has become an empty-eyed or reproachful zombie.
The epidemic is organized around Landon, who is gradually coming into resistance, Gloria, a brilliant academic ostracized because of his weight, and Prime Minister Johan Svärd, always more resolved to achieve his goal especially as the elections approach . Disappointment : “According to the latest weighings, half a million Swedes were still overweight. […] The sale of candies had only dropped by 2% since the new sugar tax was implemented. […] The fat tax had a big impact on consumer habits, but if you count the increase in border trade, the Swedes were consuming almost more fat than before. ” However Svärd has only six months before the election which will decide its political future. “We needed a more efficient method. Something that traps these big pigs against a wall from which they could not escape.“
The interest of the epidemic lies in this brutality. The book is like its very first sentence: “He was the kind of man who apologized after ejaculating.” Asa Ericsdotter coldly deploys the nightmarish scenario (soon the “Pigs” are tracked, penned, moved), in an irrepressible gearing, with all the dikes of democracy that jump in the process like fetuses. That doesn’t prevent, behind the scenes, a criticism of the flame thrower. Gloria, the brilliant placarded academic, wonders: “Perhaps the problem came from the country itself? The famous Swedish moderation. Volvo’s conceited reliability. Ikea’s poor minimalism? Who else but a Swede could turn that into a virtue to curl up in? ” But intelligence doesn’t necessarily carry the weight in the face of madness. “But hatred was a cockroach that continued to advance, even if we stepped on it” is one of the last sentences of the Epidemic.
The epidemic by Asa Ericsdotter, translated from Swedish by Marianne Ségol-Samoy, Black Acts / South Acts, 426 pp., 23 euros.