The End of Men

Reading about a pandemic during a pandemic is oddly therapeutic in this thriller where a virus is only fatal to men.

Book title

The End of Men

Author

Christina Sweeney-Baird

Standalone or series

Standalone

First time reading this author?

Yes

Why I picked this

I’ve been generally turned off by the idea of fiction about the real-life pandemic we’ve been living through. But, this description of the impact of a flu-like virus with a 90% fatality rate for men only seemed like an interesting concept – more like Stephen King’s The Stand or Joe Hill’s The Fireman than capitalising on a real global tragedy.

Review copy or purchase

Thank you to the author, publishers The Borough Press, and NetGalley UK for access to an advance reader ebook. This is an honest and voluntary review.

What it’s about

Men are dying from a highly communicable flu-like virus for which women are the carriers, but otherwise unaffected. What happens when men become the minority overnight? How does the world adjust?

Review

Dr Amanda Maclean, an A&E doctor in Glasgow, is the first to spot it. Healthy men dying within days of contracting a flu-like virus. Women seem to be carriers of the disease, but are otherwise unaffected.

The Plague tears through the world. Systems and supply chains which had been dominated by men fall apart. The world contracts as we watch it through the eyes of half a dozen women suffering their own grief and playing their part in re-establishing order in the world.

It’s strange to read a book about a pandemic during a global pandemic. However, unlike the books I’ve read where Covid-19 has been shoehorned in to try and acknowledge reality, The End of Men feels like a good dystopian fantasy novel which happens to have been published during a pandemic.

It’s also quite therapeutic. The traditional structures and government processes which fail in the early days of dealing with The Plague are not very far away from some of the reality of 2020. However, in the closed environment of a novel even failures of wilful ignorance get their comeuppance, which is nice.

Not all men die in this book, around 10% of the world are thought to be immune, so it isn’t the end of the human race overall. The impact of such a devastating reduction in humanity is an interesting concept though, and the sections of the book on how the world recovers and transforms is interesting. Male dominated careers, relationships, parenting, wars and international diplomacy are all an opportunity to take a look at how the world is currently set up and what would change if men became the minority. These social issues are handled well, and in the main avoid being too preachy. Although a section near the end on how car safety designs need to be changed to be targeted at protecting women from fatal car accidents rather than the default settings which favour men’s survival needs felt a bit heavy handed.

It was also disappointing that the perspectives of gay men and trans people in this world are rather skated over. In the final section we finally learn that gay men are now a superminority, and get a little glimpse into the work of an immune trans woman who rightly shows anger at the lack of attention of the mental health impact a disease which works on a binary gendered basis has on the trans community. Thankfully the head of the Health Protection service that she expresses that anger to recognises the failures on this front and asks her to come work with them to address that. But, it feels like a missed chance for this experience not to be part of one of the stories we did follow in more detail.

I did struggle slightly with the structure of the book. It takes place over a number of years with different chapters giving the perspectives of different women – the doctor who discovered it, a civil servant in the UK government, a lowly CDC scientist who takes the plunge to come and work with the team investigating why the disease targets men, a sociologist, and the scientist who creates a vaccine. These perspectives give a sense of how the world reacts, but by jumping between them and jumping through time I found it difficult to be fully invested in any of them.

Overall a good story and an interesting take on living through a pandemic without having to specifically talk about Covid.

Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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