The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird explores what happens when a pandemic sweeps the world — that only affects men.
I have become obsessed with dystopian and pandemic fiction over the last year (for obvious reasons) and so I was very excited to receive an Advanced Review Copy of The End of Men via NetGalley — big thank you to HarperCollins UK and HarperFiction!
The End of Men follows a pandemic that originates in Scotland, and only affects men. Dr Amanda MacLean treats ‘Patient Zero’ in A&E and is quick to alert Health Protection Scotland, but is dismissed as a “stark raving lunatic.” By the time she is listened to, it’s too late, and it has become a global disaster. Just 1 in 10 men survive the virus, with some being naturally immune and others getting ill but managing to survive.
The story is told from various points of view of the women who are left behind. Some we meet just once, while others we hear from as the virus progresses and society changes. Amanda Maclean is one of the main characters, along with Dawn, a black woman working for the British Intelligence Service who had been hoping to retire in six weeks, Catherine, an anthropologist who is married with a young son, and Lisa, Professor of Virology at the University of Toronto.
I really liked the way that the story is told — the different perspectives are really great and it really helps to hit home about the implications of a virus that only hits men (and the unfairness of it all). For example, a woman who is subject to domestic violence is frustrated that her husband appears to be the only man in her small town who is immune. Or the number of fields that are male-dominated such as rubbish collection, the police, the army, fire services, paramedics and even politics. We get some insight into how other countries manage the sudden staff-shortages that could cause further health risks — as well as the way that some countries decide to handle newborn male babies.
Not only that, but five years post-virus, the changes this has caused to society and everyday items were eye-opening. For example, all cars must be updated with safety features that have actually been tested on women (did you know that there are no crash test dummies that represent the average female used when testing car safety?) and the latest iPhone is smaller and more ergodynamic for female hands. A surviving man complains at a dinner party about how he can’t go anywhere without being hit on by women, despite wearing a wedding ring. And: “for the first time in the history of the world, women are fully in control of the way our stories are told.” These were things I hadn’t thought about or even realised (I have Invisible Women on my list next, as I feel like this will be the perfect companion read). I was really impressed that the author had considered so many aspects when writing and researching this book.
I really liked the way that loss and grief is portrayed — the loss of so many brothers, husbands and sons. She conveys all of the mixed feelings that entails, such as jealously for those whose loved ones were immune. I also liked that the impact on the surviving gay men and LGBTQ community was discussed, although not in as much detail as I would have liked. There’s also a sense of loss for the previous way of life — going to bars and clubs has changed forever, and children will never know what it was like to live in a male-dominated world. It was an interesting contrast between the grief of ordinary people and the medical side of the virus, as scientists struggled to find a vaccine.
The End of Men was a great read! It’s a fantastic debut novel that’s perfect to read during the pandemic, and I finished it in one sitting. It’s incredibly thought-provoking, which I hadn’t expected when I initially requested this book. One line that has also really stuck with me is: “If there is one thing I learnt from the many weeks I spent with men and women, discussing the Plague, it is that we did the best we could with what we knew at the time. I did my best in the most awful of circumstances. The past has been painful, but that doesn’t mean the future can’t be better.” I feel that this is a really poignant sentiment for our current times. If you are looking for a good pandemic fiction, I’d definitely recommend this!
The blurb for The End of Men
Set in a world where a virus stalks our male population, The End of Men is an electrifying and unforgettable debut from a remarkable new talent that asks: what would our world truly look like without men?
Only men are affected by the virus; only women have the power to save us all.
The year is 2025, and a mysterious virus has broken out in Scotland–a lethal illness that seems to affect only men. When Dr. Amanda MacLean reports this phenomenon, she is dismissed as hysterical. By the time her warning is heeded, it is too late. The virus becomes a global pandemic–and a political one. The victims are all men. The world becomes alien–a women’s world.
What follows is the immersive account of the women who have been left to deal with the virus’s consequences, told through first-person narratives. Dr. MacLean; Catherine, a social historian determined to document the human stories behind the “male plague;” intelligence analyst Dawn, tasked with helping the government forge a new society; and Elizabeth, one of many scientists desperately working to develop a vaccine. Through these women and others, we see the uncountable ways the absence of men has changed society, from the personal–the loss of husbands and sons–to the political–the changes in the workforce, fertility and the meaning of family.
In The End of Men, Christina Sweeney-Baird creates an unforgettable tale of loss, resilience and hope.
About the author, Christina Sweeney-Baird
Christina is the author of The End of Men, her debut novel, which is being published in 15 languages. The film rights have sold to a major Hollywood studio. She lives in London and is currently writing her second novel.
As a fan of both books and lists, Christina is a devoted Goodreads user. Her favourite authors include V.E.Schwab, Julia Quinn, Ann Patchett, Marian Keyes and Cecelia Ahern.