“Glasgow, 2025. Dr Amanda Maclean is called to treat a young man with a mild fever. Within three hours he dies. The mysterious illness sweeps through the hospital with deadly speed. This is how it begins.
The victims are all men.
Last year at this time I was reading Eve Smith’s The Waiting Rooms and observing how strange it felt to be reading about a pandemic in a pandemic. I imagined that all would be normal by Christmas. Here I am a whole year later writing about another story of a dystopian pandemic, when apart from moving house I’ve barely moved beyond my own front gate. Last year it felt strangely unreal, while this year it’s all too familiar and the weekend’s footage of people at the first music festival since COVID seemed like an anomaly. Due to my multiple risk factors I’m inside till my second jab, but I think getting out and about again won’t come naturally. This experience definitely affected my response to The End of Men because now it doesn’t feel like reading science fiction, it feels like a possibility, a potential future.
The End of Men features a virus that exclusively affects men. It’s 2025 and Dr Amanda McLean raises the alarm. Ironically she’s dismissed as hysterical. When she is finally taken seriously it’s too late. The, largely male, global leadership are slow to accept the reality and slow to act, as the death toll climbs further every day they do nothing. Women can be carriers, but don’t catch the disease. The spread is so diverse that eventually 90% of men are affected. The author tells the story using several different first – person narratives, each one a woman, left behind to deal with what is now a woman’s world. As well as Dr McLean there’s a social historian named Catherine who is trying to document human stories of the plague. As the government tries to organise a new society, they employ the services of Dawn who is an intelligence analyst. Then there’s Elizabeth, desperately trying to develop a vaccine. Through these and other viewpoints we start to see how society will change. The many voices could have been confusing, and there were occasions when I was unsure who I was reading. I soon overcame that and realised that the diversity of characters helped the reader realise the scope of this disaster and how it might affect people differently across gender, race, and class lines. This had me thinking about those voices missed – there are no LGBTQ characters in the book, which seemed odd when the virus is so gender specific. It would have brought a unique perspective to the book.
When I first read the premise of the book I hadn’t fully realised what an effect it would have to lose men. I thought of society turning upside down, no patriarchy, a world ruled by women. Through this book I realised what it would mean day to day – for a start all the professions that men usually dominate like tradesmen – electricians, builders, joiners, and plumbers. Then there’s the armed forces and how lack of defences would weaken countries. A lack of police officers, dustbin men, road sweepers, and funeral directors. There’s the fact that the other half of society will be trying to keep their respective countries together when they’re grieving huge losses of potentially every man in their family. They’re faced with terrible choices and I found myself awake at night wondering what I would do: if I had sons and the government wanted to corral them in a medical facility to keep them safe; or if my husband was sick, would I leave to keep my sons safe; if there were three generations of men in my household who would I ask to leave? Which classes and races would be most affected by the virus due to different living conditions and the financial implications of splitting a household. I thought into the future and wondered whether, once a vaccine was found, would governments start controlling fertility to repopulate the earth with men? Would I want more men and might we end up with gender wars? I kept thinking about parallels with post WWI where villages lost a whole generation of men, and where returning men found women doing their jobs and not wanting to give them up. Some men became violent and committed crimes in their frustration at having no employment to come home to. These would be massive societal shifts and it was hard to comprehend them, especially at a time when we are readjusting to coming out of lockdown. Our heads are already full of which behaviours we might keep – mask wearing, reduced social mingling, working from home – and those we’ll be happy to discard.
It does seem, the more you read, that this book is chillingly prescient. It’s no surprise that people around the author might joke about her Sybil- like tendencies in predicting the end of a world as we understand it. I don’t want to give anything more away because you need to read this and have your own reactions to it, but you should read it. This is beautifully written and compelling to read. Somehow it managed to be both hard to put down and difficult to pick up! I felt like I’d been through the emotional wringer afterwards and couldn’t stop thinking about it. However, it wasn’t just the tough decisions I remembered. It was the incredible resilience of these women and how the human capacity for hope is remarkable. This is an unbelievable debut novel. It will be an excellent book club choice over the coming months and people will want to put themselves in these character’s shoes and wonder – what would they do? Your answers might surprise you.
Meet The Author.
Christina Sweeney-Baird wrote The End of Men in 2018 and 2019 before Corona virus and could never have expected the parallels between the real world and my fiction that would ensue. She was told by some early readers though, that The End of Men has made them feel better about the world we live in today. The book has a lot of hope and is, ultimately, about human resilience and our ability to cope with the extraordinary.
My debut novel, will be released on 29 April 2021 and is to be published in 15 languages. The End of Men explores the question: what would the world look like without men? It follows characters as they try and keep their families safe, recover and rebuild the world after a deadly virus to which women are immune kills 90% of the male population. You follow characters like Dr Amanda Maclean, a Glaswegian A and E consultant, who treats Patient Zero and is desperate to keep her two sons safe; Elizabeth Cooper, a young American scientist who helps to create a vaccine in London; and Catherine Lawrence, an anthropologist who wants to record and commemorate what’s happening in the world.
She lives in London where she works full-time as a corporate litigation lawyer. She writes 1,000 words a day in the evenings and on weekends, fuelled by 7up Free, green tea and snacks.