In the decade beginning 2025, women are immune to a global virus which kills 90 percent of men - that’s the premise of Christina Sweeney-Baird’s debut novel The End of Men.
The book is a love letter to men, narrated by women desperately trying to keep their husbands and sons safe from the virus.
“I think there’s been really wonderful feminist dystopia books... that explore gender using speculative fiction,” Christina Sweeney-Baird tells Kim Hill.
“The book is not a book in which women all suddenly become power crazed and hurt men, and it’s not one where the world suddenly becomes perfect.
“Women are half the population and as the saying goes, we contain multitudes,” she says.
“In many ways the book has this central thought experiment, what does the world look like without men? And then in many ways I’ve had to work backwards, how do you feasibly have something that allows that thought experiment to come about in a way that feels believable as you read it.”
It’s a book with a lot of grief among its pages, she says. “But there are bubbles of humour, moments of levity that you really need in order to make sure that you can keep reading the story. Humour is something that is so important in real life, that’s how we cope with difficult things.”
While it may sound like a novel taking notes from the Covid-19 pandemic, Sweeney-Baird completed the book pre-pandemic, in 2019.
“I was actually quite shocked to see what was happening in the real world in 2020.”
There’s no mention of Covid-19 in the book, something Sweeney-Baird says was really important to her.
“I think that as much as we are processing obviously an extraordinary year...I do think it’s helpful for a novel to feel like a fictional universe you can be completely immersed in.”
While she didn’t want to jolt people into the messy reality of Covid-19, there are parallels, including the race for a vaccine. “When I was researching the book it was one of the big questions I had actually, how on Earth do I make this seem feasible? We’d never existed, until last year, in a world where there is a global pandemic and a vaccine that’s needed.”
It’s been bizarre and yet heartening to see the quick creation of vaccines in real life, she says.
“We’d all like to think there’d be a vaccine for everyone and it’d be very easy but as we can see from the last year, unfortunately it doesn’t quite work like that. That bit of the book was meant to feel an awful lot more unrealistic than maybe it does.
“No one knows how we’re going to respond to things until they happen.”
She doesn’t think it’s a coincidence readers are seeking out dystopian fiction at the moment. But she says for her, the book is neither dystopian or utopian.
“When the world is going to hell in a handcart it’s quite comforting to read a story that is in fact worse and that has resolution. But also that there’s just a bigger cultural conversation now about gender, about the place of women in society.
“Fiction allows us to explore worlds that cannot exist and would not exist in real life.”
Christina Sweeney-Baird studied law at the University of Cambridge and works as a corporate litigation lawyer. She has been published as a freelance journalist in The Huffington Post and The Independent.
The End of Men was longlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award.