Novels About Disability, Disease or Sickness

These novels have characters who are disabled, or have a sickness or disease.

The Hours | Michael Cunningham

The narrative moves between the stories of three women – Virginia Woolf, the famous writer, as she works on Mrs. Dalloway; Clarissa, who is giving a party in honor of a friend for winning a literary award (he also suffers from a serious illness); and Laura, an unfulfilled housewife who takes solace in reading. Virginia experiences mental instability, and Laura copes with an increasing sense of desperation.

The Plague | Albert Camus

In the town of Oran, in North Africa, rats begin dying in the street. Shortly after, a person gets sick and dies. When others die, it is suspected that the strange malady is bubonic plague. The authorities convene and take measures against it, but they’re half-hearted.

“I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.”

Animal Dreams | Barbara Kingsolver

Codi returns to her hometown of Grace, Arizona to care for her father who has Alzheimer’s disease. Her sister, Hallie, moves to Nicaragua to teach the people about agricultural practices even though it’s a dangerous area. Codi meets up again with Loyd, a Native American man she has a history with. A local mining company is polluting the river and has plans to divert it, which would be devastating to the orchards.

The Crazy Horse Electric Game | Chris Crutcher

Willie Weaver is the star pitcher on his local baseball team, and the championship game is approaching. He feels the pressure from the city and his father’s legacy as a former football star. The game is a big success, and Willie feels great for the summer. One day, while water skiing, Willie has an accident.

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day | Pearl Cleage

Ava goes to visit her sister, Joyce, in Idlewild, their hometown. Ava is a single, African-American woman with HIV. Joyce is helping a girl who is having a baby, and she eventually cares for it. Ava meets Eddie and is attracted to him. People in town make trouble for Joyce and Ava.

A Journal of the Plague Year | Daniel Defoe

The narrator recollects the events of 1665 in London when a plague progressed thru the city. A religious man, he uses the Bible to inform some of his decisions, and wonders if God is playing any part in the pestilence.

Read “A Journal of the Plague Year”

The Corrections | Jonathan Franzen

Alfred Lambert is the aging patriarch of the family, suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s disease. He and his wife Enid go to New York to visit their son Chip. He is trying to write, working for little money; he lost his job as a college professor because of a relationship with a student. The Lambert’s other son, Gary, is an investment banker focused on material success. He is very concerned about his mental health. Their daughter, Denise, is in line to be hired as head chef at an acquaintances restaurant.

Of Human Bondage | W. Somerset Maugham

Philip Carey is a young orphan raised by his uncle William, a vicar. Philip develops a love for books. He vacillates on religion. He suffers a lot of bullying at school due to his club foot. When he gets older, he develops interest in art and philosophy. He goes into medicine, and seeks contentment with various romances.

Read “Of Human Bondage”

Fever 1793 | Laurie Halse Anderson

Mattie’s mother and grandfather run a coffee house with the assistance of Eliza, a free black woman. One day their servant Polly dies suddenly. There is talk of some kind of sickness spreading in the town. A week later, the death count is in the 60s.

Read “Fever 1793”

The Magic Mountain | Thomas Mann

Hans Castorp, a young man from an upper-class family who isn’t physically robust. He goes to a sanatorium in the Alps on his doctor’s advice to treat his anemia. He spends his time talking about the other patients, resting, walking on the grounds, and having philosophical discussions with Settembrini, an intelligent conversationalist who urges Hans to leave the sanatorium. He intended to stay three weeks, but after he catches a cold, an extended stay is recommended.


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