I’ve wanted to read The Girl with all the Gifts from the moment I first heard about the book, and was really disappointed in myself when I failed to do this before the film was released. With Halloween coming up, it seemed like the perfect time to dig into this novel!
The Girl With All the Gifts is a post apocalyptic novel, where the majority of humanity has been wiped out by a deadly and fast spreading infection. The infection results in Hungries, the grotesque result of what becomes of the infected people. The minds of the Hungries are no longer their own, with their sole purpose being their need to feed. As you can guess, this novel is a zombie novel of sorts. One of the things which makes it different is Melanie. The novel quickly introduces us to Melanie twenty years after the initial Breakdown. Only a young girl, Melanie is constantly tied to a wheelchair, her days spent surrounded by several armed guards targeting her continuously with fully loaded guns. The blurb tells us that Melanie jokes that she won’t bite them, but in a kill or be killed world, her words are an eerie reminder of the threats that exist every day. And more to the question, why is Melanie tied to a chair, continuously under a guard, when millions of unstoppable Hungries spread across the world, driven by their insatiable desire for flesh?
The opening chapters of this book are a well thought out way of easing readers into the novel. We learn about Melanie, and the daily rituals of her life which are so different to that of normal girls living in normal times. I found Carey’s world building to be brilliantly executed, both in the way we learn throughout the book, but also in the world itself. We are given the information we need to establish this post apocalyptic world without being overpowered by a million different facts. We are living twenty years after the initial devastating events, yet we are not dragged down by flashbacks or useless information. Instead, we learn the backstory and intricacies of this strange world as the events of the novel are happening, keeping the story interesting, and readers in anticipation.
If the author’s world building is great, then the characterisation is just as well done. We are not overwhelmed with a vast catalogue of characters, but instead follow the story from the perspective of five people; Melanie, her teacher Miss Justineau, the scientist Dr Caldwell, the battled scarred Sergeant Parks, and the young rookie Gallagher. Each of these characters, as you can imagine, are vastly different and unique. The perspectives are easily distinguishable, with each providing a well balanced presence to the story. In a book like this, having such different characters is essential. We are able to see the differences that a world changing event can have upon people not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically, and provide us with potentially differing views from our own.
What makes the characters so real and three dimensional, are the fact that they are often very flawed. This is especially true of the scientist Dr Caldwell, whose life is fervently consumed with her need to discover the reason for this infection, and more importantly, a way to stop it. Caldwell will not be deterred in her desire to rise to scientific fame, and as reader’s will see, is more than prepared to make extremely unethical – often barbarous – decisions, no matter who stands in her way. Whilst I really disliked her character (as I am sure you are meant to), I could not help but see the rationality and potential behind her actions. Caldwell may be presented as a different type of monster to the Hungries, but are her decisions justified if they are for the greater good? It is an extremely uneasy case to consider, often leaving me feeling extremely uncomfortable. Likewise, it was very interesting to watch the way in which my own feelings, but also those of the characters, adapted over time regarding each other, and the resulting effects this has on the group.
There is so much I want to talk about relating to this book, ranging from what we learn of the infected, to the twists of the plot, and everything in between. However, these things are what help to make the book so entertaining, and I would be doing all potential readers a disservice by discussing them. As is stands, what I have talked about are probably the only things that lie within the limit of safe topics to discuss. Whilst this is extremely annoying, if you do read the book you will be thankful for being kept relatively in the dark.
M. R. Carey is a great writer. Whilst not overly literary, his writing has a striking appeal in its effective and to the point vocabulary. Carey is not afraid to describe the grotesque brutalities of a world after a catastrophic disaster, but neither does he shy from the seemingly overlooked beauties of such a world. I definitely feel that this book manages an even balance between the extremely plot driven, blood and guts books which may lack in substance, and highly scientifical fictions, which often need more attention to the story. It brings the best of these types together and produces a book which flows both brilliantly and consistently for the reader. Every scene I read from this book I could imagine instantaneously, almost as if a movie screen was forged into existence in my mind. After reading this book, I could completely understand the decision to adapt it for the big screens, and cannot wait to experience this for myself. Whilst this book may not bring you what is necessarily a happy, or an ending tied together neatly with the accompanying bow, it is without a doubt an excellent and entertaining book which deserves to be read.
Have you read this book, or seen the film? Please let me know!