Thursday, 29 April 2021

REVIEW - THE END OF MEN BY CHRISTINA SWEENEY-BAIRD

 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?

Title: The End Of Men
Author: Christina Sweeney-Baird
Publisher: The Borough Press, HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Literary Fiction, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Release Date: 29th April 2021

BLURB from Goodreads
Only men are affected by the virus; only women have the power to save us all.

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--the changes in the workforce, fertility and the meaning of family.

In The End of Men, Christina Sweeney-Baird creates an unforgettable tale of loss, resilience and hope.


PURCHASE LINKS

REVIEW
As soon as I read the blurb for this book, I knew I had to read it! The blurb immediately made me think of VOX, and Q both by Christina Dalcher and I totally admit to loving those dystopian, futuristic sometimes almost prophetic books. I find the cover quite stark and striking which fits the books content very well. I think it will certainly stick out on a book store shelf. The byline of “Only Men Carry The Virus. Only Women Can Save Us All.” on the book has given me mixed feelings as if being 100% nit-picky here (but I find I am more nit-picky with books I really enjoy). The part of the byline that says Only Men Carry The Virus . . Mmm …after reading the book my understanding is that women can “carry the virus” whilst showing no symptoms and therefore spread the virus. However, it is only men that die from the virus. However, when you search the definition of “virus carrier” it explains the terminologies meaning, A carrier is an individual who carries and is capable of passing on a genetic mutation associated with a disease and may or may not display disease symptoms. Carriers are associated with diseases inherited as recessive traits. I guess what I am trying to say/explain is that once you have really read the book you understand that the byline is technically correct. Basically, all you need to know is only men get the virus and die! Women Can “carry” the virus and pass it to men but cannot die from it themselves.

This book is going to be so difficult to review as I don’t want to give away spoiler-esque aspects of the individual characters. I think sometimes the more you enjoy a book the harder it is to review it! This is one of those books! As soon as I started reading, I felt hooked and hated having to put it down. I couldn’t wait to find out how the different characters lives changed, who had happy endings or had to rebuild their lives as best they could.

The virus begins in the year 2025 in Scotland with Dr Amanda Maclean an experienced Doctor realising something is really very, very wrong. Dr Amanda does a little research to learn what all her male patients have in common. Then she really does try to warn those higher up in power as soon as she can, unfortunately for her and the rest of the world they ignore her, even labelling her as a “hysterical woman”, words that come back to haunt those who used them!

The virus is both simple, yet complicated. It kills only men, but women can be carriers. For the first couple of days of having the virus, the male does not seem ill, meaning they continue as normal, kissing their family & friends which in turn passes the virus to them. Every time the man coughs, sneezes, simply wipes his nose he is leaving the virus on surfaces for others to touch and pick up spreading the virus far and wide. The actual symptoms begin on the third day, and death occurs usually by the fifth day. Though women do not die from this virus, quickly named “the plague” in the book they are carriers.

The thing that seriously disrupts the world and how it works is that the virus kills men…..I guess the first people will think about is How will the population go on? Then you have to think, what about all the jobs done pre-dominantly by males? Those in power in the governments in this book do refer back to the War quite a few times to find and come up with solutions to the gaps left in the workforce. Of course, the answer (like during the war) is that women will do these jobs! But the problem there, is the women either may not want to do some of those jobs or may need to study to be able to do the jobs.

Many men just decide to isolate themselves, meaning they stay home with the children and the women rapidly become the providers, the ones that have to go out into the world to source food and anything else they may need for their families. Some families simply pack up and move to isolated holiday homes to try and wait out the virus. Hopeful a cure, a vaccine, or something will be found to stop the virus.

I enjoyed the fact we got a glimpse of the “normal”, “before” life of one of the characters too. The biggest worry that Catherine had was, should she dress up for Halloween to take her little boy Theodore trick or treating! Catherine’s parents died years before and she had no siblings. Her life is her family, her husband Anthony and their gorgeous sone Theodore. Catherine has suffered more loss in her life than some, sadly having problems conceiving too. Her husband wants them to book in for IVF now but there is something just holding Catherine back, she wants to wait a little longer and see if nature will work instead. As soon as the news starts reporting on “The Plague” it is the only thing anyone seems to be talking about. Beatrice, is a mother who is picking her child up from nursery at the same time as Catherine. Beatrice has a country home in Norfolk, she and her family are going to get out of the City of London before things get any worse. They have money they can afford to take the time off work. Beatrice continues saying she has a husband, three sons, two brothers and her only remaining parent, her father to think about too. Unfortunately for Catherine, she and her husband cannot afford to flee London. They have to do the best they can where they already live and work.

Another character Dr Amanda Maclean is trying to do her best both at work and at home. Amanda has to deal with the possibilities of the plague both in her work and home life. Amanda is married to Will and they have two sons. You can feel Amanda’s frustration that despite contacting those higher up in Public Health regarding the plague she is being ignored and is literally going into work everyday not knowing how many Dr’s will be there to work with her and how many of her colleagues will have been claimed by the virus overnight.

When Amanda decides to put her family first, she leaves work and its problems behind and goes home. Amanda takes every possible precaution she can think of! She burns the clothes she had on at work and sleeps in her garage in an effort to prevent herself somehow carrying the awful disease to her family. After a week or so of these precautions Amanda feels it should be safe for her to be around her husband and sons. However, her husband doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude and reality of the plague. Will sneaks into work whilst Amanda is asleep! Will is also a consultant and has gone to the paediatric oncology department, as the mother of a patient has called him, begging for treatment for her child. Amanda is furious, doesn’t he realise the risks he is taking with their son’s lives? Amanda makes Will stay in the garage away from her and her sons, and they wait to see if and when it may be safe to allow him into the house again. Naturally Will apologises, almost as if he made a small mistake, he attempts to explain why he felt he had to go into work for his young patient. Amanda does not accept his apology, there was no mistake. Will had to know what he was doing. In fact, Amanda admits to herself if anything happens to her boys she will never forgive Will. Will is confined to the garage, no contact with the boys or even Amanda, as he could pass the plague to her and then she could unknowingly pass it to their sons.

Amanda remains a pivotal person in the plague and news around it as she ends up writing to newspapers and even finds out the details of “patient zero” and how the virus was brought into the country.

The book has characters based all around the world, Canada, Moscow, Singapore, and China as well as the UK. It was quite fascinating reading of the different ways the different UK regions and countries in the world coped with the plague. One country strongly encourages pregnant women to go to hospital to have planned births and then removes male children from their mothers and keeps them isolated from everyone else. The mothers are allowed to see and interact with their own child but must wear a hazmat suit. A region in the UK gathers a group of teenage boys and send them to a remote hostel to be cared for their in the hope they will not catch the virus. Different countries and people really do take extra ordinary precautions and go to great lengths to try to prevent the spread of the plague and their races men from dying out.

Despite the book being quite serious it does have some moments of humour. For example, when Amanda orders Will to scream at the boys like they are about to touch a burning hob if they attempt to go near him!

My immediate thoughts upon finishing the book were I enjoyed the book a lot.....but....it's difficult to describe exactly what I mean....certain parts felt too busy, flitting to different people. Perhaps the amount of characters we followed throughout the plague could have been cut back a little. At times it became hard to remember who was who, along with whereabouts we were in the timeline of the plague. On the whole I do have to say I loved it though!

To sum up, it was both weird but addictive to be reading this book during the current situation with corona virus. Prior to coronavirus you may have read this book and thought it really far- fetched, but there’s a gasp, shock, horror moment whilst reading this book that you pause and think this really could happen. I found the book both powerful and thought provoking. It’s content stays with you long after you have finished reading the last page.



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