Set in a world where a virus stalks our male population, The End of Men is an electrifying and unforgettable debut from a remarkable new talent that asks: what would our world truly look like without men?
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 changes in the workforce, fertility and the meaning of family.
In certain genres, one of the keys to good writing, and keeping a reader interested, is cruelty – the author needs to be cruel to his or her characters. The bigger the obstacle, the more interesting it is. Christina Sweeney-Baird seems to innately know this, because she takes a blowtorch to many of her characters, and the planet, in this sensational debut.
The End of Men is written in short punchy chapters, each titled with what day it is since patient zero, and each from a different point of view. The novel features multiple characters from around the world, but when reading this I was constantly drawn back to Dr Amanda MacLean, who treats the first man who dies, and then quickly sees the pattern of men being brought into hospital. Her concerns are ignored and both Amanda and the world pay a terrible price.
There is no quick fix here. There is no action hero riding in to save the day. This story plays out over years as men die and the world changes, all while waiting for a vaccine. There are moments of humour – the incel conspiracy theorists come to mind – and moments when I actually felt sick to the stomach; This novel was written pre-covid, where such a concept would’ve seemed preposterous, but look what we know now…
Thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and utterly unputdownable, Christina Sweeney-Baird has written an unforgettable tale of loss, resilience and hope. It might be The End of Men, but it’s just the start of her big writing career.