Society & Culture

Nicola Sturgeon: A Novel “Gave her Strength and Resilience“


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Nicola Sturgeon spoke about the books that have helped and inspired her at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh .
Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon has revealed what novel she was reading at the start of the Covid pandemic that gave her “strength and resilience”.

At an event in Edinburgh’s Queens Hall this week, Sturgeon – who is set to publish her own memoir in 2025 – told the packed out venue she was rereading The Plague by Albert Camus when the crisis struck Scotland.
The novel tells the story from the point of view of a narrator in the midst of a plague sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran, partly based on the cholera epidemic that killed a large proportion of the city’s population in 1849.

In conversation with poet Michael Pedersen, Sturgeon was asked what books she remembered coinciding with certain political events.

She recalled rereading the absurdist novel – which she first delved into as a student – when she began having to make pivotal decisions about rules and regulations as the deadly virus took hold in 2020.

She said: “I always hesitate to say this because it may make me sound a bit weird but at the start of Covid – overwhelming for everybody and in my position [it was] overwhelming the decisions that were falling to me – I reread The Plague.

“I don’t mean for this to be too lighthearted. It was a serious time and I was feeling the weight of responsibility but it was strangely comforting because however horrific what we were living through was – and it got more horrific in the weeks and months after that – reading that in a strange way enabled me to put it in some kind of perspective.

“Books have been, at so many points in my life, my salvation really. So often that is what I get from literature, the ability to make sense of the world that I happen to be living in. That’s why reading that at that point, I found a lot of strength and resilience.”

Sturgeon went on to say how during the Brexit era – when Donald Trump was also US president –  she turned to dystopian novels such as The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

“There are people who cannot contemplate that somebody in my position would read a book and they take offence that I read a book,” she added at the event called A Life in Books.

“I’d been sent this copy to read in advance of the interview and as it happened it coincided with the first trip to China I made as first minister,” said the Glasgow Southside MSP.

“So I do that, I get halfway through it on the plane and I’m then in Beijing and something starts to dawn on me.

“Before you go to China as a senior politician, you don’t get to take your own phone, you’re told to have a burner phone, you’re told not to leave any sensitive material in the hotel room in case someone comes in and reads it, and I’m sat there thinking ‘I’ve got this unpublished novel of Val McDermid’s in my bag’.

“I had this vision of going back to Scotland and breaking it to Val that there are 20 million copies circulating in China. So I carried this novel in my handbag everywhere I went.”

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