The End of Men – Christina Sweeney-Baird

Published by: Borough Press
Pages: 416
Date released: 29/04/2021
Date read: 15/05/2021

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 the 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.

[CONTAINS SPOILERS]

I don’t usually put a book review out on the weekend, but this was so good I couldn’t resist posting it as soon as I could. This book has touched me in ways no book had managed to do for a very long time. Little did Christina know when she first started writing this in 2018, that the very thing she was imagining – a global flu-like pandemic – was not too far on the horizon.

The End of Men follows a world where a flu-type virus – originating from infected mammals in Scotland – quickly travels the world. So far, so recognizable. Except this virus only affects men. Babies, children, brothers, husbands, sons, fathers. The virus does not care for age, background, or profession. If you’re a man you have a 90% chance of being infected and dying very quickly. Just 10% of the world’s male population has an immunity. Women carry the virus but are themselves not affected but can transmit the virus to their loved ones.

There are moments in this book that are so close to what we’ve been experiencing the past year that it is terrifying: stay at home orders, food rationing, borders closing, vaccine drives, vaccine certificates, even Scottish independence – it’s all so frighteningly real. And I think that makes it such a powerful book. In her forward, Christina says she edited the book during the worse of the pandemic in 2020. Did this impact her book? Did she change and add things thanks to her experience? Or did her mind really come up with all of this frightening foreshadowing?

Generally, fictional novels are mainly here for our entertainment and enjoyment, whereas non-fiction books are generally for our knowledge and learning. But I think we could all learn a lot from Christina’s novel. As the characters realise in the end, we will never forget what we’ve gone through as a world, it’s important to remember what we’ve lost, and it’s vital we continue to live our lives in their memory and to ensure the brightest future for all those left.

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