13 August 2014

Book Club: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

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Living 10 minutes walk away from two excellent bookshops is probably what will tip me into poverty now that I live in London. However, if my now weekly perusal of the shelves keeps leading me to gems like this then I'm willing to keep denting my bank balance.

I picked up The Girl With All the Gifts completely blind; I was just looking for a second book so I could take advantage of the buy one get one half price offer. I saw that it had won praise from one of my favourite authors, John Ajvide Lindqvist (incidentally the author of one of only two other zombie novels I've read) and decided just to take the risk.

Melanie is 10 years old and essentially lives in a cell on a base. Each day soldiers come to take her to class, their guns trained on her while they restrain her in a wheelchair. Melanie doesn't understand and thinks they don't like her, but she is happy while she's learning, especially if her favourite teacher, Miss Justineau, is teaching her about Greek myths (the title and the myth of Pandora's box tie up so neatly at the end that I almost wanted to applaud.)

However, by degrees the reality of Melanie and what she might be is revealed both to her and to us and from then on life as Melanie knows it goes into freefall.
I haven't read many zombie novels (this is my third) but even so I can tell that this is something fresh and new. It's not even just a straight zombie horror story; there are elements of redemption and road movies in there that really add a new dimension to the story.

Melanie is such a wonderful incarnation; bright, curious and really so genuine and caring that I couldn't help but love her. Aside from Melanie there are only four core characters and each of them is rendered so wonderfully and in great depth. There are so many layers to each of them but they don't reach cliched levels; even 'evil scientist' Caroline Caldwell has a really interesting back story that almost makes you empathise with her. Almost.
I particularly loved poor Private Gallagher, so desperate to change his lifelong run of bad luck, and reading his potted history of misery made my heart ache for him, especially when coupled with the outcome of his story.

As well as character development, the prose is excellent too.  M.R. Carey has done a fantastic job of keeping the balance between bleak imagery (humans-on-the-turn crying blood, anyone?) gore, terror, action and genuinely beautiful, emotive writing.
In the penultimate chapter, two paragraphs moved me so much that I had to stop reading and give the tears a chance to subside. Some simple half sentences and the half-revealed story behind them rendered me an absolute wreck as I read them.
I really feel that the story would lend itself well to being filmed, but I would worry that it would turn into a standard Hollywood gore-fest and the nuances of character and story would be lost amid splatters of blood, but there are definitely some images that I would love to see transformed on screen.

Despite the grim idea of a world destroyed and the peril of being over run with hungries looming heavy at the forefront, The Girl With All the Gifts is, to me, a book that examines humanity, sacrifice and hope from a unique perspective and it's one that I am so happy I took a chance on and got to experience.

Have you read The Girl With All the Gifts? What zombie novels can you recommend? I'd love to sink my teeth into some more (sorry!)

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