The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Recently made into a film starring the phenomenally talented Paddy Considine, the Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey has been described as an unsettling, original take on the zombie genre. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it unique, this intense and disturbing novel is an exciting, clever and fast-paced dystopian/horror that I speedily devoured in just a few days.
The novel initially takes place at an army base where ten-year-old Melanie and a handful of other children of similar age are held in cells. Escorted by armed soldiers, they are taken to and from their cells to a classroom each day, all the while strapped tightly into wheelchairs, to be given a basic education by an array of very un-teacherlike teachers. However, one particular teacher, Miss Justineau, is kind and warm and friendly and Melanie adores her.
Melanie continually seeks the attention of Miss Justineau, but Miss Justineau is not permitted to go near Melanie. She’s not even allowed to let her out of her wheelchair because if Melanie manages to catch the scent of her teacher, or any other human for that matter, her instincts will take over and she’ll attack and eat their flesh.
Like the other children, Melanie isn’t like the same as the infected people outside who have taken over and destroyed the world, known as the Hungries, but she’s something like them. The Hungries are completely mindless and motionless until they smell their prey, whereas Melanie can think, speak and learn – until she’s hungry of course. She desperately wants to find out who or what she really is, but the problem is other people on the base want to find out what she is too, and the only way they want to do it is by taking her to a lab, slicing her open and taking a look inside…
What was most rewarding about this novel was the diverse perspective it offered. Although it was written entirely in third person, each chapter followed a particular character’s point of view and showed events through their eyes (the transition of which was enviably seamless). Characters that seemed evil and threatening in one section of the novel suddenly made perfect sense in another section when the audience becomes privy to their motives, which gave the novel an almost unbearable intensity.
I enjoyed or enjoyed hating most of the characters in the Girl with All the Gifts, all except for Miss Justineau. She certainly developed over the course of the novel and became a much more interesting character by the end, but I found her to be a stock motherly figure and love interest for the most part. Also, although her illogically manic protectiveness over Melanie made sense to the plot, it was a tad annoying.
The novel was action-packed, horrifying at times and had a lot of heart and soul to it, but it’s by no means a classic. I was continuously conscious of post-apocalyptic classics while reading it, such as I Am Legend and the Road, which offered something more momentous and devastatingly beautiful than the Girl with All the Gifts managed to. It was also difficult not to compare it to the 2002 Danny Boyle classic 28 Days Later as the zombies were similarly quick and rabid in behaviour, and the setting was almost identical.
I highly recommend this novel and it truly deserves to reap the successes it has, but it hasn’t pushed the genre as much as the critics claimed it has. Entertaining? Incredibly so. Game-changing? Not so much.