The Men by Sandra Newman review – vision of a world without men

Half of humanity disappears in this disturbing study of loss, grief and moral sacrifice

In Sandra Newman’s fifth novel, all human beings and foetuses with a Y chromosome disappear in an instant, leaving the XXs to celebrate, grieve or organise in a radically altered world. To create a work of fiction with such a stark premise – as Newman also did in her previous high-concept novel, The Heavens, a time-travelling tale set between a reconfigured present-day New York and 16th-century England – runs the risk of confronting the reader with a task of reimagining that is hard to see beyond.

But although it’s true that The Men never allows us to forget its dramatic first principle, numerous other strands and themes emerge: the long aftermath of trauma and coercive control; various manifestations of charisma and complicity; the insidious, dehumanising effects of a society in thrall to screen representations of reality. It is also a novel about the lengths to which we might all go to assuage individual loss and grief; if the world turned out to be a better place without your loved one, would you sacrifice the greater good to turn the clock back?

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