The End Of Men is sweeping through the book Twittersphere like wildfire. This remarkable debut novel strikes an intelligent balance between the tension and emotional impact of an utterly compulsive work of fiction, with an extraordinarily insightful social commentary.
‘Expect big things from The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird. Written pre-Covid, this timely novel tells the story of a global pandemic – but this one only kills men. Sold in a six-figure deal, there is also a major film in the pipeline.‘
what it says on the cover …
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.
Dr Maclean raises the alarm, but the sickness spreads to every corner of the globe. Threatening families. Governments. Countries.
Can they find a cure before it’s too late? Will this be the story of the end of the world – or its salvation?
Compelling, confronting and devastating, The End of Men is the novel that everyone is talking about.
PUBLISHED: 29th April 2021
SHELF: Literary Fiction | Speculative Fiction
AUTHOR: Christina Sweeney-Baird
PUBLISHER: Borough Press (HarperCollins)
FORMATS: Hardback | Kindle
‘I didn’t actually set out to write a “pandemic” novel. I wanted to explore what the world would look like without men – what would parliament and hospitals and dating and childcare look like? What would change? What would stay the same? What would it feel like to live in a world so affected by loss and which needed to be rebuilt around, and by, women? A pandemic was the most realistic way of writing that world; a reverse-engineered thought experiment.‘
From Christina’s piece published in the Guardian Review on 23rd April 2020. Click here to read the full article
my review …
This book hooked me from the very start, with the author’s note that has been unusually placed at the beginning of the book, rather than at the end. And rightly so. In case you skipped the ‘what it says on the cover’ section above, The End of Men is set in 2025 in a world that’s being ravaged by a pandemic, hence the numerous plaudits describing this book as ‘remarkably prescient’, ‘scarily prescient’, and ‘chillingly prescient’ … and variations thereof. The author started writing this book in September 2018, when we were all still going about our lives, meeting friends and family, hugging them, even. Skip forward nine months, the first draft was finished and we’re all still blissfully unaware of what lies ahead.
Whilst the book starts with a scene of domestic normality, it’s not long before the reader is drawn in to the unfolding crisis as Dr Amanda Maclean identifies a worrying pattern in a relatively small number of patients arriving at her Glaswegian A&E department with flu-like symptoms and dying within hours. Health Protection Scotland are dismissive of her concerns and it’s more than two-weeks before they start to take things seriously. By this time, the virus has spread as far south as Bristol, and news of the outbreak is already being reported in the American media.
Coined ‘the Plague’, this extremely aggressive virus is resistant to everything the medical world throws at it; high strength antibiotics and antivirals do nothing to halt the ravaging destruction it wreaks on its victims … all of whom are men. There’s no distinction in age, so babies, young children and the frail elderly are as susceptible as fit and healthy men. Only one in ten is immune, but nobody knows who, or why. Whilst the nature of the virus is different to Covid, it’s the observational details that strike a startlingly familiar chord, from the new vocabulary that’s now part of our own everyday lives, to the conversations, anxieties, and behavioural shifts.
The story is conveyed through the narration of strong, bright, female lead characters. Amanda is (obviously) is one of the main voices of the book, amplified by that of Catherine; a London-based anthropologist, Lisa; an American virologist, Elizabeth; a pathologist from the Centre for Disease Control, and Dawn; an MI5 employee. These first-person narratives are supplemented with press articles, scientific reports, email dialogues, letters, journals and eulogies, as we progress through the book’s sections whose titles remind me a little of the five stages of grief; before – outbreak – panic – despair – survival – recovery – strength – adaptation – remembrance.
From time to time we read the accounts of several characters who have no official responsibilities or scientific connections; people who could so easily be you or me, struggling to stay alive and calm and informed. Every one of these individuals makes a valuable contribution to the progress of the plot; from Toby stranded for two years on a passenger ship with dwindling food and medical supplies, to au pair Rosamie in Singapore, and Irina in Moscow who seizes the unexpected opportunity to escape a violent marriage with her daughter.
With each chapter, the reader is confronted with plenty of challenging moral questions. I don’t want to say too much for fear of straying into spoiler territory, but let me posit these ethical dilemmas to whet your appetite: Can it ever be right to profit from the life-saving vaccine you’ve developed? If your remote rural home is conscripted to evacuate dozens of boys from infected cities what lengths do you go to to keep your own son safe? Do spend your dying husband’s last moments hugging him close knowing you’re very likely to go on and infect your son, or do you leave him to die alone? Should an algorithm be allowed to determine the ‘right’ recipients of IVF to safeguard the country’s repopulation programme? How comfortable would you feel taking newborn baby boys from their mothers, raising them in a sterile medical facility until a vaccine can be found?
Whilst this book handles some extremely important and divisive topics, it’s not without moments of levity. We have MI5 Dawn to thank for that; her wry internal monologue and caustic observational humour make for welcome reprieves from the weightier topics of grief, suicide, social engineering, and female subjugation. The author broaches the theme of gender discrimination gently, and whilst I personally wouldn’t say this is a feminist novel, it’s certainly a thought-provoking exploration and commentary on the accepted norms and gender biases in the modern world.
Catherine has the last word in The End Of Men, by way of the foreword to her anthropological study of the plague. It’s a message of hope and optimism, although it’s impossible to miss the resonance of aftershock that, in 2031 is just beginning to make itself felt worldwide.
The End of Men is an intelligently written and remarkably provocative book that, despite the dystopian tones, is a story of opportunity, love, and survival. In her notes at the start of the book, the author describes how she set out to write a thought-experiment about a pandemic that disproportionately affects men. In many ways, Covid-19 has stolen the thunder of that element of the book – we’ve lived through, and continue to live with that particular dystopia on our doorsteps and televisions every day. But stripping that element out (viewing the virus as a means to experiment) it allows the truly radical thinking to shine through … how the world adjusts to it’s new prevailing societal make-up, the pan-global changes in economies, wars, and trade, right down to the everyday considerations of relationships, sexuality, and procreation.
This book has the goosebump-inducing foresight of Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 movie, Contagion and the BBC’s 2003 (frankly brilliant) dramatic pseudo-documentary, The Day Britain Stopped. Without a shadow of doubt, The End Of Men is a book that’s going to make a remarkable impact when it arrives in bookshops next week … it sparks so many conversations spanning not only its authentic prescience, but the strong feminist themes, and the sheer brilliance of the writing and plotting.
Thank you to HarperCollins PR Team for sending me an ARC of The End Of Men in return for an honest, impartial review.
Christina grew up in North London and Glasgow, and now lives in Bloomsbury. She studied law at the University of Cambridge and works as a corporate litigation lawyer. She has also been published as a freelance journalist in The Huffington Post and The Independent, and co-hosts the Culture Comforts podcast. The End Of Men was long-listed for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award. It is her first novel.
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