• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Speculative Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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‘What happens when a virus is gender specific and 90% of the male population has died?’

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird is published with The Borough Press. Described as ‘compelling, confronting and devastating…the novel that everyone is talking about’The End of Men was written in 2018 before anyone had ever heard of Covid19. When Christina Sweeney-Baird was writing her debut novel, she described it as ‘the ultimate thought experiment.’ How far could she take her imagination? Little did she know how prophetic her novel would turn out to be.

The inspiration for The End of Men came out of a particularly bad time in Christina Sweeney-Baird’s life when she nearly died from sepsis in June 2018, resulting in a month long illness. This experience, combined with her reading of The Power by Naomi Alderman, became the catalyst behind writing The End of Men. Imagine a world where 90% of the world’s male population is decimated, destroyed by a virus that ravages the globe taking almost every male baby, child, teenager and man in its path? What a truly frightening concept. Christina Sweeney-Baird set her novel a few years down the line to 2025, almost as though it was somewhere off in the distant future but after the chaos of the last twelve months, the idea of a global pandemic is no longer a futuristic possibility. It is here and we are living through it right now.

The End of Men introduces us to a multiple of characters in various parts of the globe as The Plague (as the pandemic is referred to in this book) slowly starts to unleash its deathly grip on society. Originating in Scotland Patient Zero is identified early on and, over the course of the book, the carrier is alluded to but not in any great detail. The doctor who makes the initial observation is shut down by Health Protection Scotland with a dismissive remark about her being a mad woman, a mad woman who is proven to have been correct. As the virus picks up speed, the nightmarish scenes become very much a reality. But this virus is very specific, in some way linked to the genetic makeup of men. Only 10% of the male population are immune, creating a new world, a new order where women take control and men become the gender that is stared at, commented on and, some times, harassed and belittled.

There are many scenes that just tug at your heart as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend is left behind but there seems to be a common thread running through the book of strong women who just get on with maintaining order and calm amidst the chaos.

For obvious reasons The End of Men is a very unusual book to read while living through an actual pandemic. We are now all so used to being bombarded by the science bits, soaking up the latest news on vaccines and variants. With the lockdown restrictions now part of our daily lives we had no choice but to adapt and do our best to get through these challenging days. We are all in this together is the attitude of most people as we watch terrifying images from around the world and count ourselves lucky that our governments are doing their utmost to keep us safe, to keep us alive.

I didn’t particularly like many of the individual characters in the book, which isn’t an issue in its own right, but I did struggle with their lack of emotion, their almost one-dimensional personalities. Reading about folk going on a date, having a drink just jarred with the disaster unfolding around them. The End of Men is a dystopian book, originally written when the prospect of a global pandemic wasn’t in the thoughts and minds of most folk. But now we are ‘experts’. We know more. We have more facts available at our fingertips and my mind kept wandering to these when I was reading the book and asking would a certain character actually do that?

I liked Christina Sweeney-Baird’s writing and I would definitely read her future books but unfortunately I just did not connect with this book in the manner that many, many other readers have done. If I had read this pre-pandemic I would expect my reading experience to have been very different.

The End of Men is dystopian but it most certainly no longer feels such an alternate reality. A virus, as we now all know, can have many variations and impact people in many different ways. The premise of this story is no longer one that we put to one side as just an imaginative story. It could happen and that in its own right is a very scary prospect indeed.

The End of Men has been snapped up by a major studio and is most definitely a movie I would be excited to watch on the big screen. I look forward to how the characters are adapted and what personalities are given to them all. I will say that Christina Sweeney-Baird is one to watch and I’m actually afraid to ask what her next book will be!

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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