The End of Men was, in a word, phenomenal. I wasn’t sure how I would feel reading a book about a global pandemic whilst in the midst of a global pandemic, but if anything it only made the story more compelling because the worldwide response to the “Male Plague” seemed highly believable.
In 2025, a startling medical anomaly emerges in a Scottish hospital. Dr. Amanda MacLean tries to alert public health services and relevant branches of the government, but her cries of alarm are ignored and soon a terrifying virus is sweeping across the world – a virus that only affects men. Narrated by various women (and a few men) in the UK and other parts of the world, The End of Men is a thoroughly engaging debut novel that explores family, grief, motherhood, gender dynamics, and how a catastrophic event affects the human race both on a personal and global scale.
The book was an interesting thought experiment about how deeply gender and sex shape our societies and how removing nearly half of the world’s population from the equation truly highlights the lack of equality and balance across the political and professional landscape. In addition the book was so emotionally gripping that you simply can’t put it down. From the incomprehensible grief of suddenly one’s sons/husband/father/brothers all in quick succession, to the relief of having female children that are not at risk of dying, to the guilt of being an asymptomatic female carrier of the virus and unwittingly passing the disease on to your loved ones – there was such raw and palpable emotion that you couldn’t not be moved.
There were however, some aspects of the book where it became difficult to suspend disbelief, namely when it came to “scientific” discourse about the virus. I find it extremely improbable that it would take months of round the clock research by all the world’s greatest scientific minds before someone would realize that a virus that affects individuals on the basis of biological sex might have something to do with XY chromosomes. Honestly, I’m no geneticist or virologist but I thought that as soon as I read the words “male plague”. The explanation about immunity was similarly unlikely, but if you wave away the questionable science it’s still a fantastic reading experience.
I have never felt so powerful. This must be what men used to feel like. My mere physical presence is enough to terrify someone into running. No wonder they used to get drunk on it.
Could there have been more diversity in the narration? Sure. Most of the key characters are educated and middle-class, and there is minimal racial diversity, however, to give the author the benefit of the doubt this is a fairly accurate reflection of the scientific community and political leaders. Could there have been more commentary on gender vs. sex and LGBTQIA2S+ issues? Perhaps. There was one chapter briefly addressing the affects of the plague on Trans individuals and gay men, and there was some speculation on the nature of female sexuality (women who had never before dated other women doing so after the majority of the male population has died). Again, to give the author the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she does not feel it is her place to speak on behalf of an entire community when she is not an expert. All authors write what they feel comfortable talking about and not every novel can fully address every issue. So, while in the spirit of objectively I have laid out some possible “short-comings”, I thought that the book did a great job of what it set out to do – explore the impact on the human race if a disease only affected one sex.
I thoroughly recommend this book for any fans of The Power or Y: The Last Man. It’s one of my favourite reads of 2021 so far and I’m very much looking forward to exploring more of Christina Sweeney-Baird ‘s work in the future.
Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Canada for providing an eARC of this book for review.