Book review, Feat., Fiction

Book review: The Girl with all the Gifts – M. R. Carey

Standard zombie fare.

Starts out good but gets old fast.

Best part is the girl.

Non-spoilery summary:

The story is mostly (but not entirely) told from the perspective of Melanie.  Melanie is a little girl, probably between 9 and 11 years old.  Every morning soldiers come to her little cell and point a gun at her while she is immobilised in a chair and taken to her classroom with the other children who are also similarly restrained.  Melanie is bright, articulate, and thoughtful.  In a normal class she would be the star pupil.  She has a number of teachers but one, Miss Justineau, is her favourite and means everything to the little girl.  There’s an angry soldier man and a heartless head scientist.  The world outside is swarming with hungries (zombies) and junkers (survivalists that have gone feral), both are kept at bay using guns and a rather flimsy fence.  The children don’t really know what they are and why they’re being kept in their little cells.  Then everything turns to custard…

My review

The beginning of this book is really well done.  We’re brought squarely into the mind of this imprisoned child with a brilliant mind.  Melanie is the best part of the book.  She doesn’t know what she is or the significance of it, nor does she know why she is being treated the way she is.  She has to interpret her world through her lessons and the adults that guard and teach her and the other children.

Given how good the beginning of the book is, I was really annoyed with the second half of the book.  It quickly devolves into a run-of-the-mill zombie narrative.  Run, fight, hide etc.  If the book had carried on with its original narrative I would have been much happier.  There was so much that could have been done there that it felt like a wasted opportunity.

I’d give this three stars.  As far as zombie books go it’s pretty good.  But it loses points because it fails to follow through with the promise of the first half of the book.

I didn’t realise that the movie from this had already been released (ages ago).

I haven’t seen it yet and I haven’t quite decided yet if I want to.  I am planning on reading the next book that Carey has written based in the same world (The Boy on the Bridge).

Now, I want to have a bit of a rant.  But the rant is super-spoilery.  SO if you have not read the book and you think you might like to, scroll past the stars and the spoilers to the end of the post.  I’ll make it nice and obvious when the spoilers are over.

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WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD! Last chance to scroll ahead!

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Alright, if you’re here then you came for the rant.  I warned you.

Let’s start with what I really liked – Melanie is great.  She’s such a well-developed character, but she behaves in a way that is believable for a child in her situation with her level of intelligence.  I really connected to Melanie.  She has a bit of a saviour fantasy where she saves her teacher, Miss Justineau, from the monsters and her teacher in turn loves her for it.

I was really pleased that Dr Caldwell is a woman.  The conflict between her and Miss Justineau would have been less original had the book been pitting an emotional, female teacher against a coldly logical male scientist.  Certainly, Caldwell’s character as a stone-cold heartless scientist is a bit of a well-used trope.  But I enjoyed her juxtaposition to Miss Justineau.

Sergeant Parks on the other hand represents the typical asshole soldier who is redeemed at the end.  He’s not really that interesting.  In hindsight, Miss Justineau is also not that interesting except for the role she plays in Melanie’s hero worship.  The book tries to introduce a “monster” element to her when she confesses to the hit and run of a child the day before the world ended, but it doesn’t really work.

Dr Caldwell, on the other hand, despite the fact she cuts up kiddies for “research”, is more interesting because of her backstory as the jilted scientist who was left behind while the other, more brilliant, scientists sailed off into the sunset.  The fact that the others almost certainly died a horrible death and disappeared does not appear to stem Caldwell’s bitterness in the slightest.

I really, really, want to see a story that discusses what happens to the kids left behind at the base.  Those poor kids!  Even a short story would work for me.

Here’s the part of the book I really didn’t like – the explanation as to where the children come from! It flat out does not make sense.  It isn’t that well explained to start with, which leaves the reader to interpret a bit.  But two hypotheses are put forward. Either:

  1. The children are born from mothers who were already pregnant when they were turned into zombies; or
  2. Hungries are able to reproduce after they’ve been turned.

The first hypothesis might make sense if it weren’t for a few things.  I can’t remember a proper timeline being established in the book but it looks like the world was turned more than 10 years beforehand.  Some of the kids you encounter later in the book appear to be about 5 years old.  I can’t imagine that there were that many pregnant women wondering around outside and being turned into hungries 5-10 years after the initial wave of infection.  Certainly not enough in one particular area to produce the group of feral children that we see at the end of the book.

The second explanation makes no sense at all.  Hungries don’t notice each other and they stand stock still until something that looks like food wonders in front of them.  Yet you’re trying to convince me that they’re still going to have sex and produce babies?  Yes, some hungries retain enough of their humanity to do things that are out of the ordinary for hungries.  But the two behaviours noticed appeared to be singular, mindless and repetitive.  Zombie sex just isn’t believable.

That leaves me without a plausible explanation for the children, for the time being anyway.  Maybe the next book will clarify the matter.

 

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Spoilers over now!!

What did you think of this book?  Have I completely missed something when it comes to the explanation of where the children come from?  Have you seen the movie?  Should I watch it?

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