The Girl With All the Gifts
by M R Carey
This book was picked by my book club, otherwise I doubt I would have read it, but I’m glad I did. It’s also going to be very difficult to write about without spoilers.
Melanie lives in a small locked cell. Each day she is strapped to a wheelchair by soldiers and wheeled to a classroom. She loves to learn. She loves her fellow classmates, though it’s difficult to make friends when you can’t turn your head to look at each other. Most of all she loves Miss Justineau, her favourite teacher. But why is she here, living like this?
And that’s where I will leave the synopsis for now, but I’ll put a spoiler warning below so that I can explain a little more for those who have read the book/watched the film/don’t mind spoilers.
“Melanie lets these facts run together in her mind. Their possible meanings form spontaneously at the points of confluence.”
It’s definitely an easy, compelling read. I liked Melanie, who is both very smart and also naive. She is for the most part very self-aware, except for the one key aspect of herself that should have been obvious to her long before the reader figures it out. But she’s not the only good character. Miss Justineau and Dr Caldwell have a fundamental difference of opinion but are forced to work together in close quarters, leading both women to at least try to question their own point of view. And the story is interesting as well as thrilling.
Where Carey does fall down a little is physical description. This might be related to his background in writing comics and screenplays, where someone else is responsible for filling in that scenic detail. It might also be related to the fact that he was writing this book at the same time as the screenplay of the same story. (The film got good reviews and I do quite fancy watching it now.)
“They talk for a little while longer about the things that have happened, wrapping the violence up in careful, delicate words so it feels less horrible. Melanie finds this interesting in spite of herself – that you can use words to hide things, or not to touch them, or to pretend that they’re something different than they are. She wishes she could do that with her big secret.”
And now it’s time for that spoiler warning.
** Don’t read beyond this point if you don’t want to know the major early twist. **
Did you stop reading if you didn’t want to know? Okay then, I’ll continue.
The basic premise is that this book is set 20 years after the Breakdown, a complete falling apart of civilisation after the zombie infection appeared. Melanie is being held at a military base along with other children because they are somehow functional zombies. Most zombies, or “hungries”, are the traditional shuffling monster kind. The story explores this concept, with Dr Caldwell performing the difficult-to-navigate task of investigating whether the children are the key to curing, or at least inoculating against, the zombie infection.
It’s a slightly different take on zombies, and comes with an attempt at a believable scientific explanation that actually felt reasonable, within the context. That said, Dr Caldwell is a little bit one-note – she could have been a much more complex character with this scenario.
I was very interested in the depiction of zombie-apocalypse Britain, and the gradually revealed extent of the devastation wrought on society. The small details had been carefully considered. I also like that the story was pretty well wrapped up and it seems unlikely that this will turn into a trilogy. But I could always be wrong on that point.
Published 2014 by Orbit.