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

Firstly, a disclaimer – this book was written in 2019, before anyone had heard of Covid 19! The author herself has added details about this at the start of the book. It isn’t based on what the world has experienced in 2020 / 2021 – but the whole coronavirus crisis does make it so much more believable. I’d seen this book on a few ‘books for 2021’ lists – and was lucky enough to be given an advance review copy by NetGalley.

Here’s the blurb:

Glasgow, 2025.  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.

The book starts in Glasgow being told from Dr Amanda Maclean’s viewpoint when she first identifies this new virus that seems to be killing only men but being carried asymptomatically by women. She tries to quickly raise the alarm – but is dismissed as being a hysterical woman and so it takes a while for it to be taken seriously.

Subsequent chapters are told by different points of view from around the globe. Mostly these are women – because only 9% of men are immune. It deals with horrific grief, jealousy, death, fear, changes to governments, jobs, vaccines, rationing – and the various stories are all intertwined over about 4 years from the initial diagnosis.

I think the fact we’re all going through a global pandemic makes some of the things that may have been considered far fetched – are actually potentially more imaginable. Rationing of food? Deciding who can and can not have children? Enforced labour? Thankfully a few steps further than the lockdowns we’ve endured – but not complete pie in the sky after the last 14 months.

I found some of it incredibly moving – in particular the women giving birth and not knowing if they’d have a daughter who would live, or a son who would probably die within days. Also, the rationing of ‘normal’ medical supplies to people who actually stood a chance of living – rather than men with the plague or the elderly made you question how close the UK could have got to that? We all know how much the coronavirus pandemic has delayed cancer diagnoses – for example – but how much worse could it have been?

The ethics of discovering a vaccine was also part of the storyline – and who the intellectual property rights do or should belong to! Thank goodness Astra Zeneca are distributing their covid vaccine at cost.

Dr Amanda is determined to uncover the initial cause of the virus in patient zero – and the similarities with the suspected start of Covid 19 are spooky, and does question the treatment of animals in foreign countries. The relationships built between some of the characters in the book also evolve really well.

Overall I found the book incredibly well written and thought provoking. I had an early download – so I’m hoping a couple of the continuity errors have been sorted (Devon becomes Suffolk and then back to Devon again at one point!) – but these did not detract from an excellent book. I would highly recommend this debut novel.

A huge thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for my ARC.