Book Review: The End of Men
I read the book just for the title. And so should you.
Seriously, though, this book is golden. The End of Men by Christina Sweeney – Baird is a four-star read through and through. Before we get into why the book is brilliant, I’d like to point out that it can be distressing too. That’s because it is set in a fictional pandemic world.
So if you’re looking for something light and fluffy or a book to escape, this may not be it. I, however, cope with distressing things by looking for more of them in books and TV shows – that’s just how I am wired.
Trigger warning: Pandemic
It’s 2025 and a mysterious virus breaks out in Scotland. The virus, however, only impacts men. The women are immune to it and nobody knows why. The virus is aggressive in both its spread and fatality and the world is breaking.
Reading a pandemic book during a pandemic
As you can probably tell, reading a book about a pandemic during a pandemic was a roller coaster ride. It frustrated me but also actually helped me cope.
The first half of the book focuses on the break out and the panic and the suffering. That part definitely made me question why I was even reading this book right now and choosing to torture myself. However, by the middle of the book that emotion went a whole 180 degrees. Here’s why:
The virus in the book is next level scary. It sort of made me see the silver lining of covid-19. Because we as humanity would not be able to handle the fictional pandemic even for a day. We would crumble right away.
While the first half of the book may be focused on the break out and panic, the rest of the book focuses on recovery and adapting and moving on. It gave me some sort of hope to hang on to? To zoom out and think about how we will get through covid-19 even if it’s going to take some time.
Women. Women save the world in this book. Women save men. Women make the world a better place.
More on the book
Time frame and structure
The book spans over years, from the break out of the pandemic to the post-pandemic world, and is divided into nine parts:
Multiple point of views
The story is told through multiple characters – 90% of them being women. Some of them are very central to the story such as Amanda, the doctor who discovers patient 0, and Catherine, a social historian, and Elizabeth, one of the scientist working towards the vaccine.
There are another dozen characters that have a few chapters from their POV. Multiple POV books don’t typically work well but this one really made good use of that technique. It serves the story well and captures how different people, mostly women, are impacted by, brave through, and survive this horror story.
The eerie story of when the writer wrote the book
I assumed that the author, Christina Sweeney – Baird, wrote this book in 2020. After the pandemic broke out. I continued to be under that impression until after I was done with the book and reached the author’s note.
Sweeney reveals that she started writing the book in September 2018 and finished writing it in mid 2019. She thought it would feel like “the ultimate thought experiment”.
I was even more impressed by her after knowing this because firstly, this is her debut novel. Secondly, she got a lot of things right! The way we panic, the way we react, the way we change, the way we fail. I genuinely thought she observed all of this during covid-19 and then penned it down.
The end of men aspect
I’m not going to lie. At the start of the book, perhaps the first 25% I felt disappointed and cheated. I was expecting to see the scenario of no men on the planet and how that works out right from the beginning.
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–the changes in the workforce, fertility and the meaning of family.
But at first the book is mostly about the loss women suffer when they lose their husbands and sons. I see why that is realistic but I thought the story would begin after the grieving.
However, the book picks up eventually on its promised premise and I am so very glad about that. It only showed what we all already know – the world would be very different without men. Not going to give you any spoilers on that but it’s very basic and I’m sure you can already imagine it.
I definitely don’t want men to die. Of course not! But do I want them to be less powerful and idiotic? Yes please.
How we can achieve that I do not know. Placing all the responsibility on mothers is horrible and further highlighting the burden society places on women.
This was a brilliant book. I recommend it to everybody! But of course, please consider if reading this book given the current scenario is going to be good for your mental health and well-being or not. I think that’s a very personal choice.
Also, I would love to read such a book written and set in India, South Korea, Japan, China or any of the other Asian countries. The politics, the impact, the recovery, the challenges and the silver lining would be very different when seen in an Asian context.
Feature image: Author’s Instagram