Dr Amanda Maclean is called to treat a young man with a mild fever. Within three hours he dies. The mysterious illness sweeps through the hospital with deadly speed. This is how it begins.
The victims are all men.
Dr Maclean raises the alarm, but the sickness spreads to every corner of the globe. Threatening families. Governments. Countries.
Can they find a cure before it’s too late? Will this be the story of the end of the world – or its salvation?’
I did, briefly, have second thoughts about whether I wanted to read a pandemic book while in the midst of one, especially working in an environment where we’re dominated by various Covid regulations and have to be quite constantly alert for student and staff safety. However, after I started reading The End of Men, I just couldn’t put it down. I initially tried to keep to the pages per day of the readalong, but that went out the window after I set the book aside for half an hour or so and couldn’t wait any longer to read on!
The End of Men follows the years of a pandemic that only affects men, and perhaps the worst feature of the virus is that it impacts all ages, including newborns. Women are discovered to be immune to its effects, yet there is no safety is this, for it only means that they are hosts that can pass the virus on to any male family and friends. Once the virus takes hold, the end is swift and inevitable, to the extent that treatment is deemed to be useless and most men don’t seek help or medical assistance, choosing to remain with their families. The knowing what will happen and that there is no way of preventing is one of the book’s most emotionally impactful features, as women find themselves helpless to do anything but watch and wait, forced to prioritise protecting those they love while distancing themselves from others they love no less, in what becomes an increasingly futile effort to try and keep them alive.
One of the features I liked most about the book is the inclusive of documents and emails and various other communications alongside the points of view of the ‘main’ characters. It allows for a wider look at the world and what others think of the actions being taken by some of the characters that you get to know better over the course of the story, bringing you outside their heads and a glimpse of what differences there may be in what ‘reality’ really is. The multiple points of view and media releases are particularly well used regarding the eventual vaccine that is discovered and the choices surrounding it, as it seems so shocking compared to our own experience, and also not when you take into account the distribution of vaccines and which countries have access to the most doses and why. The decisions made surrounding survival and treatment in The End of Men only highlight just what the pandemic has done to our sense of community – what we hoped we had learned during our worst moments and what many people in power seem to be forgetting as the vaccine becomes more and more political.
The pandemic in The End of Men is much worse than the current one, but the nature of the response, particularly from government and officials, and just who we are encouraged to listen to, is frighteningly similar. It is women who sound the alarm in the opening stage of the pandemic in The End of Men, but the doctor who treats the first patient is ignored for reasons that men have been using to cast aside women’s opinions for hundreds of years. She is assumed to be emotional and hysterical, unable to think clearly or know what she’s doing, and her warnings are ignored despite her professional knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, I think this is something that all women have experienced more than once in the work environment, and something that isn’t likely to go away any time soon, and I found myself hugely angry on her behalf. There is more than a little irony in men refusing to acknowledge the warnings about a pandemic that is going to destroy them, simply because those warnings aren’t delivered by one of ‘their own’.
There is a huge amount of unpack in The End of Men, from ideas about gender and sexuality, to politics and morality, but I’ll have to stop here or I’ll end up writing an essay! The End of Men is an excellent and thought provoking read, and one I see myself recommending to others for a long time.
Thank you to Tandem Collective UK and Borough Press for sending me a copy of the book for the readalong!