Jan 13, 2014

Book Review – The Girl With All the Gifts by MR Carey


Do yourself a favour and don’t read the back cover of The Girl With All The Gifts.  It won’t ruin the story for you but to my mind, when an author goes to the trouble to set up a clever opening to a well ploughed genre and then marketing decides to undercut that by telling you exactly what the book is like, because hey the point is shifting books… well…

If you like post apocalyptic thrillers with a decent scientific conceit underpinning it and an engaging read, go out and buy this book.  Go, do it now.

But if you if you don’t really care or if you are one of those folk who like to know what the story is about before you go and make your investment, read on.  But I am going to spoil it.  Well, spoil it as much as the back cover does anyway.

All Melanie has ever known, all that she can remember is her room, the classroom, the showers and the corridor.  Each day men in uniform come and collect her and take her to the classroom.  She has a few different teachers, but her favourite is Miss Justineau.  Miss Justineau teaches them about poetry, and Greek myth.  The other teachers tell them about the time before the Breakdown, before the Hungries and the wild Junkers.

The back cover of my edition  of The Girl With All The Gifts quotes Jenny Colgan of the Sunday Times as labelling it “Kazuo Ishiguro meets The Walking Dead”.  I haven’t read any Ishiguro but the link to The Walking Dead sits uncomfortably with me (but I understand it’s shorthand for “this book has Zombies, shambling fans of the Walking Dead will love it”) or certainly not the most apt genre comparison one could make.  I’d say it shares a family resemblance to certain works by Richard Matheson.

So yes it has Zombies. It has survivor tension and there is a race on to find a cure for the Hungry pathogen. As much as I like The Walking Dead, The Girl With All The Gifts is a much tighter and tense piece of work(maybe this is where the Ishiguro reference exerts itself) .  The action set pieces are limited and brutal but this book earns praise for the maintaining the tension between the Survivors and drip feeding information about the Breakdown and the work towards a cure. This is no endless trudge, this book has a resolution, it has a finishing point and if you are very clued in to the hints Carey drops you might anticipate it.  Looking back it’s a wonderful structured book with characters that we want to succeed against the worst Hungries and Humanity can throw up.  It’s that hope I think that in the end masks the clues that Carey has dropped.

From a gender perspective The Girl With All The Gifts was good.  The lead character is a young girl.  The two scientists at the base where the story begins are female, two of the named teachers are female.  Of the main cast three out of the five are women. Plenty of women talking to women about things other than men, sometimes not nice things but…

I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw it movie form.  I am not sure that it would survive the Hollywood concept of what makes for a good movie though.  The Girl With All The Gifts is intelligent and well crafted genre fiction, and while I could put it down, it was very compelling and a joy to return to.

Australian readers can purchase it from Booktopia, it’s released tomorrow.

This copy was provided by the publisher.

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