I’m going to get straight to the point here…..I could not put this book down.
The End of Men is another strong contender for book of the year, it had everything, was gripping, scary and a little bit close to home.
In 2025, Dr Amanda Maclean is working on A&E in a Scottish when she’s called to treat a young man with a mild fever, three hours later he’s dead.
The illness sweeps through the hospital, the country and eventually the globe. Governments are brought to their knees, society breaks down, millions die – the victims are ALL men.
I’m aware reading about global pandemic while living through one may seem a little masochistic but trust me, this book was brilliant and written BEFORE the coronavirus pandemic. The author addresses that in her foreword, explaining she caught Covid last year – talk about life imitating art.
“I know you’re meant to live your truth through art and everything, but contracting Coronavirus was a step towards authenticity I could have done without” Christina Sweeney-Baird
The End of Men is told through multiple points of view; there’s Amanda who raises the alarm. Catherine a social anthropologist with a husband and young son who becomes determined to record stories of the plague. Dawn, a security analyst tasked with helping governments rebuild. Elizabeth a scientist working to discover a vaccine and Frances whose husband is stranded on a cruise ship near Iceland with no way of contacting her (or anyone else) he writes her love letters, while she desperately tries to convince authorities to get supplies to those on board.
The plague – as it’s called in the book – kills 90% of men only a handful are immune. Women are carriers but unaffected, as the drip of news about the mystery illness starts to spread, families stay home, mothers desperately try to keep their sons safe and away from others; panic builds as the characters come to the realisation that a vaccine won’t come soon enough and there’s little, they do to protect the men they love.
When Amanda warns health protection about the potential threat, she’s ignored and branded a ‘time waster’ and a ‘lunatic’, she becomes determined to find the source of the outbreak and do all she can to help despite facing her own devastating loss.
The reluctance to act, the failure to contain the spread, missed opportunities and incompetence all sound familiar – depressingly so you might think – just a couple of years ago I’d have read this thinking “that’d never happen, bit far-fetched”, now not so much….
“I’m not a doctor and I don’t work for MI5. I don’t have anyway of verifying this information. What I do know from years of reporting, is that ignorance, incompetence and fear so often go hand in hand with governments that none of us should be surprised that if the institutions we thought would keep us safe, would in fact be woefully inadequate in the face of a pandemic.
“Journalism is an odd mix of the pursuit of truth and knowledge and going on a hunch. Amanda Mclean is in a similar position” Christina Sweeney-Baird
I loved how this explored the impact of the pandemic, what do you do when 90% of the male population have died? How do you rebuild, how do you make sure the human race continues for a kick-off?
Female led governments have to introduce fertility programmes and decide what to do with limited sperm, baby boys are seized just after birth and placed in quarantine to give them the best chance of survival and teenage boys are sent to live in remote areas. Women are drafted to do jobs that men predominantly used to do – rubbish collection, the army, police, fire service (I could go on).
Terrorism isn’t the threat it was – the plague’s wiped the male terrorists out. China has split into several different, democratic factions ran by women. International travel is only allowed when 99.9% of the country’s population has been vaccinated and countries have to agree (oh look at that, an understandable border policy, who knew).
Then there’s other everyday things that change too, car safety features are redesigned because seatbelts and airbags are tested using crash test dummies based on the “average male”. Dating obviously has to undergo a seismic change…men are as rare as rocking horse turd.
I loved Catherine’s conversation with an immune man who talks about being harassed by women in this new world, his discomfort at having comments made to him as his walks the street (I bloody laughed at that).
In and amongst all that, are the personal stories. Each character faces loss and has to deal with that emotional impact in a new strange world. Like now, everyone is affected in some way shape or form. Friendships forever altered and new ones made. It looks at what it means to be family when you’ve lost everything and where you find that family – sometimes in the most surprising of surprising of places.
It reminds us that we are resilient, there is always hope.
The final message on remembrance was so poignant. In a world we’re given facts and statistics day in day out we must remember there is a person, a family and love. No one is simply a number; they are remembered always by those they leave behind.
“’I think we’ll remember them and talk about them and tell their stories. We’ll know we loved them and were loved by them. That will be enough’. She pauses. ‘You know, the world doesn’t have to remember you for you to matter. We were loved by those we loved. Not everyone can say that’”. Christina Sweeney-Baird
I can’t recommend this enough, an outstanding debut and a great, fast-paced read.
P.S Another reminder to politicians – always listen to the warning of a doctor, they understand science.
P.P.S Got my vaccine this week and it is absolutely ruddy marvellous.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm