The End of Men

Putnam. Apr. 2021. 416p. ISBN 9780593328132. pap. $17. F
DEBUT Sweeney-Baird takes on some weighty issues in her speculative near-future debut novel. It’s 2025, and a Scottish doctor is dismayed by the sudden deaths of several otherwise healthy men in her hospital’s ER. Over the next days and weeks, it becomes clear that they were afflicted by a plague that only targets men and is nearly always fatal. The plague’s effect on the world is soon catastrophic; we see its terrible spread through the eyes of a few individuals. Their stories unfold at an intensely personal level, as scientists rush to create a vaccine, and politicians impose strict laws to ensure humanity’s survival. What might a new normal look like, when everything has been upended?
VERDICT Sweeney-Baird explores the consequences of dramatic changes to human cultures and societies, as survivors grieve terrible losses and struggle to cope. The publication of this haunting novel in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic may hit too close to home for some. Nevertheless, it is compelling and well-written and should appeal to fans of near-future fiction that seems all too plausible. Read this alongside Lauren Beukes’s Afterland for a different take on a similar premise.
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