The Girl With All the Gifts

M. R. Carey
The Girl With All the Gifts Cover

The Girl With All The Gifts


This is an awesome book! It's definitely my favourite book of the year so far.

Melanie lives in a cell. Each morning she is held at gunpoint and strapped into a wheelchair and restrained and wheeled into class. She knows there are other classmates as she can see their heads in front of her but she cannot turn her head to talk to them.

There are a few key characters in the book - Melanie who is a child who does not yet know much about her world, Miss Justineau - her teacher, Dr. Caldwell a scientist based at Melanie's 'home', Sergeant Parks - responsible for security at the site and Private Gallagher - one of Parks' men.

What the book does really well is present the story from each of the characters perspective. Melanie is a perfect unreliable narrator as she doesn't know anything outside of life in the cell and the classroom. The other characters fill the gaps and provide colour and depth.

The characterisation is particularly strong. Each character is authentic to their beliefs and goes through significant development. One could read the book as 'doing the right thing' - the key difference is that each character has a perspective of what is the right thing. The characterisation is authentic and they all have depth.

The pacing of the book is awesome. The author is a comic book author and I can see similar themes in that in a comic medium the writer has to convey much with little text and have a strong notion of movement. This isn't a slim read by any means but it feels like one as it's very difficult to put down. The first hundred pages or so are amazing and thrilling as Melanie's situation is uncovered. The rest of the book follows a relentless pace, indeed in some ways it mirrors the road movie (and I'm thinking of unpleasant ones like 'The Hitcher' or 'Race With the Devil' in that the escape is futile). That said, the characters have space - even if they don't always have time to breathe!

For those who don't know the novel can be described as 'zombie fiction'. In this novel a fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis infects the human race and turns them into zombies (called 'hungries' in the book). Now I love zombie films - basically anything Italian from the 70's rocks my boat! That said, my only experience of zombie fiction is Mira Grant's 'Feed' which I thought was very poor so I guess my expectations were quite low.

All the tropes of the zombie film are here. There is gore, plenty of it. Every couple of pages a hungry is getting shot in the head! There's a scene quite early on in the book that really made me squirm - I won't spoil it but the reader will notice it when it comes!

There is plenty of science which makes sense on a surface level -I think it's pretty cool that the fungus is real (it affects ants) and that Carey has researched this well.

The setting is fantastic - small town Britain, a deserted London (think '28 Days Later' with a nod to 'Lord of the Flies'), rural villages - again this roots the story in a realistic setting which makes the dystopia so much more realistic.

It's also a novel of survival. Not just for survival for the characters but also for humanity, for Melanie, for the fungus. It does raise some interesting ideas about the right to life. As a vegan I do not accept speciesist arguments that human life automatically has a right to life over all over species. In a nutshell I believe that if a being is capable of feeling pain then we do not have the right to cause pain to it. Even though Melanie is a threat, she can also feel emotional distress and therefore has an intrinsic right to life. That said, I would shoot a hungry in the face if it tried to bite me! It did make me think that many readers would automatically support any means necessary to save the human race, yet how many of us value our own wellbeing and that of our families above the rest of humanity. It seems we would hypothetically be quick to save 'humanity' from zombie attack yet we are quite happy to see much of the world suffer through greed, racism and cruelty.

It's also a novel ultimately about hope and the power of hope. The characters do everything they can to survive in spite of challenging odds. It's a novel of parenting and love. I suspect one would need a heart of stone not to root for Melanie (and I do wonder if my emotional strings are being pulled a little here -Melanie would not be as effective as a middle aged man.) Her innocence and the way she begins to understand the world around her develops gradually as layer upon layer is revealed to her. It's cleverly done with no info dumping.

So, it's a thought provoking novel, but it's also a great thriller - it's exciting, fast paced and an easy read. It will make a great film which is just as well as the screenplay was written at the same time. I just hope that it stacks up.

Great book.