(This review does contain spoilers)
This feels very much a book of these strange and troubled times, but amazingly it was begun in September 2018 and finished in June 2019. The author professes her amazement and horror in the preface. Imagine how she must have felt, seeing a version of the depths of her darkest imagination becoming very real.
I think how you feel about this story may well depend on whether you identify as a man or a woman (to be very binary about it – in the book itself, due to the science and symptoms of the plague’s victims and carriers, any nuances around genetic man/woman are largely glossed over).
It begins with the frustrations of a woman doctor in Glasgow who sees that something unusual and horrible is happening, and the hierarchical medical establishment (which to be fair does include women) ignores her concerns. It may or may not have made a difference if she was listened to. The ongoing story does rather starkly present how much of the world is male oriented.
The focus of the book is the plague beginning in Scotland and then the story progresses largely in the Western hemisphere, with a small foray to follow a character in Singapore; the author of the book (that a narrator of The End of Men produces) does address this. Once civilisation essentially is locked down it’s hard to encompass a wider world! The chapters are split between several character’s viewpoints, which works brilliantly to ramp up the tension and the despair. One person or family ignorant of important events happening to others.
I found the tables-turning of the female experience of street harassment and ogling to the now much-rarer men suffering from it to be, whilst refreshing, still a little bit too, I don’t know, expected? And I wasn’t convinced that so many hetero women would develop relationships with other women as men became scarce. Shades of you must have a partner to be happy. And there are some male characters by the end who think themselves very much ignored by a female-led society, again, it felt just a little shoehorned in.
But I really did find this book unputdownably and utterly riveting, especially reading it in the middle of a lockdown that had made the pandemic-suffering world a strange and crazy place. If ever we forget what the pandemic was like we need only pick this book up again for a reminder.
Can I recommend a bookseller, Bert’s Books, who goes over and above and helps us avoid the dreaded ‘big river’ emporium? At the moment he has signed copies. He’s just opened a real actual shop in Swindon if you are in that neck of the woods.