Tuesday, 28 January 2014

'The Girl with all the Gifts' - M.R.Carey (Orbit)

Every time I reach my absolute limit with zombie fiction another book arrives and persuades me to keep going just a little bit further. Zombie fiction these days is just like the monster it portrays, it's dead but hasn't quite realised it yet and continues to shamble along mindlessly. It's not doing anything new now and there's only so far that survival horror will carry any plot.

But I keep going back, hoping that zombie fiction will scale the heights that it once did and also because (being completely honest here) I love to start the morning commute with a heady dose of gore. There I said it :o) I'm also keen to see what authors new to the genre can do with it. M.R. Carey isn't exactly new to zombies (having written about them before) but has never, to my knowledge, written an entire book about them. I love his style (no matter what name he uses) so had to read 'The Girl with all the Gifts' and I'm really glad that I did. I don't think there will ever be a sequel (for obvious reasons) so make the most of this book now, seriously.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.
When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite. But they don't laugh.
Melanie is a very special girl.

'The Girl with all the Gifts' is many things all at once and these seperate facets all combine to form a narrative that is rich and compelling. I couldn't get enough of it and at one point, after a long old day at work, made the decision that a rotten headache in the morning would be a small price to pay for reading the last fifty pages. It's that good.

The zombie apocalypse is here again but this time it's the most plausible it has been since Joe McKinney said there was something in the water. Without giving too much away, there's a zombie apocalypse going on right now and Carey takes this to a logical conclusion that has echoes of 'Day of the Triffids'. Another British apocalypse where the emphasis is on finding a cure instead of shooting up zombies (although the 'hungries' do get shot) and this adds just the right note of urgency to proceedings; especially at the very end where everything is suddenly cast in a new light and the ‘cure’ becomes very different indeed.

Melanie takes centre stage here and is a surprisingly frustrating character to write about in terms of keeping things fresh for people who haven’t picked up the book yet. You can probably guess the ‘big reveal’ anyway but what really keeps the pages turning is Melanie’s childlike view of the world; the sense of wonder that comes with every new thing she sees and her determination to protect her teacher, Miss Justineau, whatever the cost. It’s that naivety that reels the reader in to begin with (makes for some very touching moments), what keeps us reading is seeing how Melanie adjusts to change and how that naivety changes under various pressures (and there are some harrowing moments here, enough to make me say that you probably shouldn’t read this book if you don’t like writing that is close to the bone). It’s a real testament to Carey’s ability as a writer that Melanie becomes a very different person, by the end of the book, but still retains that core naivety enough to make some earth shattering decisions just when it matters the most to the reader. Sometimes you have to see the world through a child’s eyes in order to be able to make the decisions that matter the most.

At the same time as everything else (i.e. a child’s journey through the zombie apocalypse) ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ is all about your past not only haunting you but eventually taking what is owed. Some things are just too big to run away from, even if you put an entire zombie apocalypse between you and it. Dues have to be paid and what this means for one character in particular is terrifying yet strangely apt. A life sentence takes on a whole new meaning in this setting and while it could mean good things for the future of humanity you can’t help but feel the horror of that last page and what it means. It’s the most powerful ending to a novel that I’ve seen in a long time.

There is so much going on in ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ and the only thing that I can really say to you is read the book and experience it all for yourself. Carey is a good storyteller at the best of times but here he takes his storytelling to a whole new level. Highly recommended.

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