Book Review: The End of Men by Christina Sweeny-Baird

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.

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This one is actually quite tricky for me to review, the writing was excellent, the story well crafted and I would absolutely recommend it but I also didn’t necessarily enjoy all of it. Not because it was bad but because parts of it felt so close the COVID pandemic and the actions that were taken (or not taken) at the start of it that reading it made me feel properly anxious.

Also as a parent who has two boys parts of it really touched a nerve with me. I found myself feeling absurdly grateful that COVID doesn’t differentiate between sexes in the way the fictional ‘plague’ in this book does as it would have been so much worse.

I really liked the way the story was told from multiple points of view with some key narrators and some people we only checked in with once or twice. It lent a real sense of realism to the story.

There were a couple of bits that when held up against what we know of vaccine development from living through our own pandemic didn’t sit quite right, I won’t say what all of them were as I don’t want to give away spoilers. One of those though was the almost throw away comment form one of the researchers about how many Chimps they had accidentally killed in the course of their research – for one this was a huge number and two I very much hope that such practices are long a thing of the past.

Overall though the story rang very true, uncomfortably so in a lot of places.

The End of Men is available now.