New Release Book Review: The Second Cure by Margaret Morgan

The Second Cure…

About the Book:

Control the brain and you control the world. In a fractured nation, two women are left with a choice – risk all to bring humanity together or let it fall apart.

A pandemic is racing through our world, changing people subtly but irrevocably. The first sign for some is losing their faith. For others it comes as violent outpourings of creativity, reckless driving and seeing visions.

Scientist Charlotte Zinn is close to a cure when her partner becomes infected. Overnight her understanding of the disease is turned upside down. Should she change the path of evolution?

As Australia is torn apart, reporter Brigid Bayliss is determined to uncover the dark truth behind the religious response to the outbreak.

Brigid and Charlotte find themselves on the frontline of a world splintering into far left and far right, with unexpected power to change the course of history. But at what cost?

Dark, thrilling and compulsively readable, The Second Cure is a provocative debut about control, courage and belief.

My Thoughts:

‘The cure, she called it, did you know that? Not the cure to stop the plague. This was the second cure she said.’

The Second Cure hit me like a bolt of lightning. I went into this novel with a fair amount of trepidation; science fiction is not really ‘my thing’. Or so I tell myself. But this year alone, I’ve read more science fiction than ever before and each of these novels has been brilliant. I’ve loved them. And so it is with The Second Cure, a genre blend of science fiction with dystopian themes written in a literary style. Utterly captivating, horrifyingly realistic and ultimately uplifting. I honestly can’t recommend this novel high enough.

Margaret Morgan writes with exception. She presents a type of science that is not very basic in a very accessible manner, which was really lucky for me because my brain tends to become overwhelmed very quickly once anything becomes scientific. But I really knew what was going on all the way through this novel. Too bad Margaret wasn’t my science teacher back in school. For anyone who has been contemplating reading The Second Cure but has held off because of a fear of the science themes, you can shelve those concerns. As well as writing with accessibility, Margaret has a way with words in general that seem to have them blending into the most beautifully atmospheric prose. I was gripped with a certain sense of place while reading The Second Cure. It’s a very immersive novel.

‘As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, the bush remained invisible, no cloud present to bounce back the light of the city. On moonlit nights she could see down to Bujwa Bay, a tucked-away pocket of the river that ran into the vast Hawkesbury and out into the Pacific Ocean. But tonight there was no moon, and the stars were sharp against the night, the Milky Way looking like the smear of cream its name suggested. From the pond below she could hear the knock-on-wood call of a striped marsh frog and from across the valley was the two-toned hoot of a solitary boobook. Crickets and the metallic ting of microbats. There was no breeze.’

The Second Cure has several narrators but the main two are scientist Charlie (Charlotte) and journalist Brigid. These two women are almost sisters-in-law. Charlie lives with, and is the partner of, Brigid’s brother Richard. Another character by the name of Winnie also has an impactful presence in the first part of the novel. She is Richard’s and Brigid’s mother. So you can see that this story revolves to a certain extent around a family. I really liked both Charlie and Brigid. Very different from each other, but both equally as passionate about their cause. For Brigid, her cause is the truth. She’s in it for the long haul and she’s determined to unmask a proselytising politician who is rising rapidly by capitalising on fear within society – I know, they all do that! But this guy…well, you really just need to read it. As a Queenslander (the setting of the more extreme parts of the novel), my face was doing a good impression of that little shocked face emoji while my stomach was churning over the extreme right wing politics. It’s fiction though…right? Charlie, after years of research, is working on a vaccine as well as a cure for the cat plague that has the world within its grip. Why does it matter if cats are dying? Well, it matters a lot, because everything is connected. If cats don’t exist, the population of rats boom, as one example. But it’s not just domestic cats dying, it’s big cats too, the lions and cheetahs and every type of cat all around the world. It’s wrecking havoc on the ecosystem. Furthermore, even though it’s a cat plague, it’s infecting humans, because they have become the host. The virus manifests itself in different ways, depending on the individual, something Margaret skilfully demonstrates by way of contrasting the experiences of her characters. When Richard becomes infected, his symptoms force Charlie to regard the progression of the disease in a new light. The need for a cure, and a vaccine, becomes all the more focused.

As a side note, on the topic of Charlie and Richard, I absolutely love the way Margaret sums up their relationship in this moment of introspection by Charlie:

‘At its worst, she worried that their relationship was little more than an exchange of facts and orgasms. He told her things about music and art. She told him things about science. They had good sex. Of course there were other exchanges, too. He provided the accommodation (free of mortgage or rent); she earned most of their money. She paid for the food; he bought it and cooked it. Just another symbiosis, like fungi and algae in lichen. But she loved him, and she knew he loved her. That added a buffer against imbalances, perhaps. Or maybe it magnified them. Was it true that in every relationship one person loved the other more?’

This novel spans a long timeline, more than fifteen years, but it’s split into two parts and jumps ahead in the second part, so it’s still very fast moving. It really is a novel for our times. It generated such a sense of unease within me, how familiar some of the themes seem when considered within the context of today’s society. I did not see the end result coming. I honestly had no idea what was going to happen with Charlie and Brigid. Were they going to pull off what they had each set out to do? And what is the second cure? How does it differ to the first cure and what is its purpose? It all ends in a way that is both devastating and uplifting at the same time. I was shocked and elated in equal measure. This novel is nothing short of brilliant. And the cover is absolutely gorgeous.

‘Charlie couldn’t endure listening. This was her work they were exploiting. Her work had built Capricornia. Without her cure, Effenberg would not have been able to build his regime and equally vile dictatorships across the world couldn’t have found their power. She’d been trying to stop extinctions, to do good science, and she had indeed succeeded, but the price…the price made her want to vomit.’


Thanks is extended to Penguin Random House Australia for providing me with a copy of The Second Cure for review.

About the Author:

After practising in criminal law, Margaret became a professional writer, working as a screenwriter and script editor in television for many well-regarded Australian drama series (Water Rats/A Country Practice/GP). Margaret’s short fiction, reviews and journalism has been published in Meanjin and Going Down Swinging. Her works for stage (librettos for music theatre) have been performed to critical acclaim and full houses at major Australian arts festivals. Margaret recently completed a bachelor’s degree in Advanced Science in Biology at Macquarie University, where she focused on plant science, genetics and parasitology. While studying, she won a prize for popular science writing in an international competition judged by Professor Richard Dawkins.

The Second Cure
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Released on 30th July 2018

6 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: The Second Cure by Margaret Morgan

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