‘I had work, such terrible fucking possession. Downstairs is my proof, my national obligation,’ says 59-year-old sculptor Edith Harkness in Sarah Hall’s Burntcoat. The obligation in question is her last sculpture, a national memorial to the victims of ‘novavirus’. But we don’t know that at first. What we see is Edith’s final preparations for the sculpture, and for her death. Burntcoat is set in the near future, a decade or so after the outbreak of a global pandemic that is very similar to the coronavirus pandemic but not quite the same, where survivors of the virus are subject to fatal relapses.
Hall is the author of five novels and three short-story collections and she began work on Burntcoat on the first day of the first lockdown. The near-future setting provides a way of looking back on Edith’s life and a tragic love affair during ‘nova’. Burntcoat is concerned with