on 8 February 2014
This was a very difficult review to write. I have a lot of feelings, that I haven’t yet untangled. But I want to let out some of this emotion in the form of this review. I have a lot to say, but I can’t say too much – the details of this book have been so wrapped up by the publishers that it would feel a shame to spoil anymore than they would like. I will say that I was looking forward to this book from the moment it was announced, spurred on by my love of Mike Carey’s Lucifer graphic novels. And now, this looks to be one of my favourite for the year – already!
Melanie and the children are not like other children. They stay in their rooms when not in class, which is led by one of four different teachers. There, they are taught the geography of England and the world – both things they have never seen. In fact, they have never seen anything but their cells, and their classroom. They know where freedom, whatever that is, lies – at the end of the corridor, behind a steel door. But when children are wheeled out of there, they never seem to come back…
Oh, and that’s the other thing. Whenever the children are taken to class, or to shower and eat (a once a week event), they are strapped into wheelchairs (despite the fact they can walk just fine), which neck straps and all. This is all done by a soldier, while two others watch on, guns pointed at the children’s heads.
Melanie’s world is not the world as we know it.
Nor is it the world as she knows it, come to think of it. She has never seen sky, and, until the day Miss Justineau forgets herself and strokes the little girl’s hair, has never felt human contact before. Even with her genius level IQ, she just doesn’t understand – from the big questions, like why they can’t go outside, to why their drunken teacher tells them the population density of Birmingham doesn’t matter, because the population of Birmingham is really 0. But…that’s not what they should be being taught.
This is a twisting book. It runs circles, and then double backs on you. It’s a quiet book, for sure, especially given its subject matter, but it’s got a lot of weight in it.
Spoilers in the following paragraph – not huge ones, just enough if you wanted to go into this book blindly. You can skip the next paragraph, and read ahead instead, if you don’t want any info.
But this is a (this is the naughty word) zombie novel at its most basic level. What I liked was the fact it isn’t a shooting and bloody book. The zombies, as physical beings, are not the matter here – mostly their effect on a mental level is what matters. Because there are mysteries here – existential, as well as medical. While Dr Caldwell, the last remaining scientist with a slight chance, who only has this facility that the children are on, is hellbent on finding the cure, she is inadequately equipped. And there are many more problems than that later in the book.
Back to spoiler free waters, the book is also about the care and protection of a young child. It is about a troubling and complicated friendship between Miss Justineau, who is trying to absolve herself from former sins, and Melanie, who puts them all in danger, but is full of platonic infatuation for her caring teacher – the only one to ever show her affection.
Then there’s Parks, a soldier at his core, who finds himself faced with difficult decisions and difficult decisions. He starts off a bastard that you slowly come to care for. And Gallagher, who is under Park’s command, a troubled young man who has known of the discipline and bravery for soldier work, but will do anything to escape his troubled life at home.
This is not just a post-apocalyptic novel. This is a post-apocalyptic novel with feeling – that will twist you up as you see the bad things coming for the characters you don’t want hurt, and will let you sigh with relief when they struggle out of tight corners. We begin in a static that changes rather quickly, and the novel you thought you’d started turns out to be a totally different one. I can’t help but be vague to stop myself from spoiling any surprises.
But the ending is what really makes this book. It is as surprising as it is inevitable. But again, I won’t say much more.
I will admit that the prose style left my feeling slightly detached from the drama, but I still felt something. I’m just nitpicking now, to try and find a negative, but I am definitely emotional compromised by this book. It’s wonderful, and one of the best I’ve read in the post-apocalyptic genre, because it sneaks up on you and throws things at you that you never thought you’d see.
I do love Mike Carey. Highly recommended.
It's difficult to know what to say about The Girl With All The Gifts without spoiling a twist that occurs early on in the novel and governs the entirety of the story from then on, but I think I'm safe to say that this story is set in an imagined dystopia, where huge population loss has decimated Britain and the few survivors hang on in military bases. On one of these bases lives ten-year-old Melanie, who spends most of her time in a cell and the rest in a classroom, where she soaks up information, especially Miss Justineau's stories of Greek mythology. But she and her fellow pupils are treated like dangerous animals, shackled to their seats and hosed down with disinfectant every Sunday. To Melanie, this is normal, but the reader realises within the first few pages that something is wrong...
This is a gripping and well-written thriller that runs along familiar lines, but manages to rise above its competitors by the sheer effectiveness of its storytelling and its careful handling of the central character, Melanie. I find that using child narrators is a very risky business, as it's so easy for the author to depict a child as twee, unrealistically naive, or sickeningly perceptive and honest. The depiction of Melanie, however, is almost entirely successful. This is partly due to her secret, which steers her depiction away from the usual cliches of childhood, partly due to the fact that she is not the only narrator, and partly because she does not narrate in first person, so MR Carey does not have to attempt the 'voice of a child'. I still had some niggles about her presentation, such as the story she writes early on in the novel, which does not read to me as the work of a ten-year-old with a 'genius-level' IQ, but as the work of a younger child with this level of ability. However, this can possibly be explained by the fact that we do not know how long Melanie has been in education. Still, I felt a little uneasy about her flawless moral code, and I could never relate to her quite as closely as I could to the other characters.
Fortunately, the rest of the cast are satisfyingly individual. Miss Justineau is the most traditionally likeable, but I found myself increasingly fascinated by the two soldiers and, especially, by the most morally suspect member of the crew, scientist Caroline Caldwell. I could never quite tell whether Caroline was meant to be the villain, fulfilling a 'mad scientist' stereotype, but I hope not, because I found her much more interesting as a 'grey' character. Although Caroline oversteps a certain moral line at least once during this novel, I found that I was still broadly sympathetic to her, and understood why she adopted the mindset she did to do the job she had to do. Her final futile discovery is a fitting end to her journey, and she performs the role of antagonist in the narrative without descending into cackling evil. This is a key addition to Carey's story, and I don't think that the novel would have worked nearly as well without her.
I would recommend this novel both to established SF fans and to those who do not usually read SF. Unlike most novels with a twist in the tale, it delivers fully upon what it promises, and does not rely on gimmicks to supply its consistently mounting tension. It should also have considerable crossover potential for young adult readers. Good stuff.
on 21 August 2015
I didn't know anything about this book coming into it, which is always nice. I wasn't sure if it was sci-fi or thriller.
I was pleased to find the novel was dystopian and that I was engrossed in the early sections, which introduced the main character of a 10-year-old child, Melanie. The initial chapters of the novel are set in a military base and within this narrow environment the book works really well - the mysteries of how Melanie and her classmates are, what happens to the missing children and what lies beyond the bases walls are all compelling. Melanie herself is a well-written child character who immediately has your sympathies. It's difficult not to be moved by the situation Melanie and her classmates are in.
However, as the novel progresses and other locations are introduced, I felt it tailed off and I lost interest a little. The problem for me was that once the initial mysteries had been answered the rest of the book (about 2/3 of it) became a rather standard genre (I won't name the genre but it will be pretty apparent once you understand Melanie's condition) novel about a bunch of characters travelling cross-country whilst in constant peril. The intrigue I felt early on was gone and whilst the rest of the book was well written I was no longer enthralled.
Aside from Melanie, I didn't really care a great deal for the other characters, which didn't help.
Overall though, I think this is a book worth reading. Some people will love it and others, like me, will enjoy it with some reservations.
on 30 October 2015
If you like to get lost in books then this is one for you. A new take in an oversaturated market, Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts is a Science Fiction story about a young girl called Melanie finding out who she is in a zombie infested dystopia.
If you ever struggled to fully grasp the message in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend then the themes here are similar enough for you to gain clarity with it after reading The Girl With All The Gifts. Please do not associate this book with the film I Am Legend. That film resembles neither this book nor the book it was based upon.
The novel had just the right amount of scientific grounding for me to speculate the plausibility and I very much enjoyed saying ‘ophiocordyceps’ with growing confidence as the book progressed. In truth my internet history is littered with disturbing pictures of insects torn apart by fungi. I even managed to drop it into a sentence the following day and looked like a complete psycho as I explained what it meant.
It enraptured me to such an extent that it became bedtime material for my toddler. I’m pretty sure that he had very little concept of the content though part of me is secretly hoping that it will settle in there somewhere; a seed of science fiction waiting for the right moment. I was drawn in by the central characters. Melanie is the perfect balance of innocence and inquisitiveness and I truly enjoyed discovering Carey’s world through her paradoxical vulnerability. I was also touched by the duality of Miss. Justineau who fought her mothering instincts for as long as she possibly could, which in the end wasn’t very long at all. A mother, a scholar, and most importantly a moral human being she reached out to me as a friend and held on to me as a role model. A truly wonderful character; a Wendy to a world of Lost Boys.
I love to read books where, once finished, you can sit and think over what you’ve read for a while and this did not disappoint. Without wanting to ruin the storyline for any prospective readers, the ending was both thought provoking and harrowing in its possibilities. I’ve already verbally recommended this book to friends with similar reading tastes but to anyone out there looking for a new favourite to wear out give this a try. You can thank me later.
This is mostly a zombie survival horror, but with a key twist regarding the central character. It's obvious almost immediately how she's different, so the question is how that is going to play out and why she's as she is. The story is generally fast-paced, with some periods more introspective as the scene is set from her view, but with many thinks happening that make for a dramatic change. There is a progression towards a finale that is not entirely unexpected, but some of the details may still surprise. It's more like many of the genre, where the answers unfold slowly so that by the time they a certain, they're not surprising.
It's the kind of book that you are likely to finish very quickly, and it's certainly up to keeping your interest through the book. The clues about things are spread throughout, so it remains coherent. Overall it's a good read for those who like apocalyptic, end of days or survival horror stories.
This dark, post-apocalyptic tale is a stunning thriller which kept me on edge all the way through. We start with the point of view of Melanie, a young girl kept in a stark and inhuman bunker with class mates and a selection of teachers. Slowly, we realise why. They are under military control and only one person who comes into contact with these children, the teacher, Miss Justineau, retains any vestige of humanity. Can we blame them? We don’t yet know what’s happening ‘out there’. A fungus has infected humanity and the scientists are desperate to find a cure. Do these children carry an immunity and if so, how can it best be turned into a cure?
I was absolutely gripped by this story and by what it tells us of human nature and its response to adversity. The little girl was a haunting figure and all the way through I wanted her to be safe. I cared about her and her survival. I also felt for her teacher, fighting against immense odds to look after her charge. Other characters pulled me or repelled me, but sometimes I changed my mind about them as their stories unfolded. The end was sublime. Horrific in some ways but ultimately hopeful. It’s a haunting story and I shall not forget it in a hurry. Highly recommended.
on 20 December 2015
I read this as part of a book club and it is not my usual genre.
I read it very quickly and couldn't tear myself away- however, this wasn't because I was 'hooked' it was simply because I was reading with anticipation, hoping something exciting was going to happen.
The first 10 chapters are good - mysterious and they draw you in. The only character I really 'knew' was the little girl. The other characters were all weak and the settings/scenes not particularly well developed.
The author also randomly placed about 3/4 of the way through a wierd sexual thought - it was random, misplaced and didn't belong in the book. It was as though it were inserted to tick a box!
The ending was dreadful and not thought out at all.
Overall an OK read but needed more depth and direction.
Ummm, much lorded and much splattered with impressive quotes from outlets like the Guardian and Vogue this caught my eye through recommendation and the harsh divisions it seemed to create in its readers. A marmite book, people loved or hated it. So what did I think? (Warning, whilst there aren't exactly spoilers here, it's impossible to give my view without revealing the basic themes of this story as they're the source of that passionate reader reaction.)
So, deep breath, this is a book about zombies! What! You'd never get that from the cover. Well, honestly, it is and I have an inner eight year old and he totally loves zombies (woop, woop!) It's a sophisticated and clever take on the zombie-trope, fungal zombies, human civilisation sliding into that all too familiar dystopian rust-fest that happens in so many books nowadays - like dystopian is a virus infecting the collective creative mind (it's all getting a little dull and repetitive don't you think?) Anyway, the fungal infection is like the one you see on the wildlife documentaries, those spores that drive ants totally bonkers, the hyphae exuding faux-neurotransmitters that take over the host and make them little more than robot mushrooms. Mushrooms that bite!
So, you get the backdrop, civilisation melted to jiggering, jerking mould that runs and bites. Hungries! (Yes, a zombie book that doesn't actually use the word once.) These zombies do everything that proper zombies do, they run and swarm and bite and are relentless and dumb and gloopily disgusting. So, check, inner eight year satisfied - yum, yum!
But then, weird, so weird, MR Carey (pseudonym for some seriously good writer of Marvel and screenplays and graphic novels) does something either amazingly clever or daft. I suppose he skates the edge of genius, as that's where we're led to believe is where genius happens, in the zone between what should be done and what shouldn't. The Girl With All the Gifts tells the story of the zombie apocalypse from the inside out, it makes us like the hungries - well at least feel sorry for them - and them positively root for one of them. Our heroine, Melanie, is a new type of hungry, a sentient one, the child of an infected human with fungus running deeply through her like Blackpool through pink, sweet rock. She can stop her hungry urges, reads ancient Greek and has a crush on her teacher and is self-aware. So this is an existential zombie-book, a self-reflective zombie book and add to that that Melanie is a child our emotional buttons are being pressed and prodded in all sorts of strange places.
So, what DID I think? The inner eight year loved the fast-paced screenplayesque zombie scenes, the running, jumping, shooting and splatting. The chin-clenching intellectual in me, pompous and sniffily watching the reactions of that inner eight year old wasn't convinced. Zombies and existentialist angst, interesting idea. What a great pitch! MR Carey is an undoubtably very accomplished writer with a great turn of phrase and his prose skittered somewhere between the easy-to-digest addictiveness of Pringles and the seriously-you're-having-a-laugh-with-us suspension of disbelief cutting ridiculousness of two tropes melded and mutated in a weirdly fascinating way.
And that's my verdict, a weirdly fascinating book, like a hippo in a hat, walking with a cane or a flower growing a mouth and asking for marmite on toast - you'd stop to watch, but you'd not perhaps end up any the wiser and most likely simply spend the rest of the day freaked.
So should you read the Girl With The Gifts? Yes, it's like watching a film it's so smoothly written but I'm not sure it actually achieves a great deal more than the running and jumping and splatting of the zombie-trope even though it is clearly reaching much, much higher. It's deepest question seems to be can horrific, merciless, vicious zombies be redeemable? A question that flips actually, in the way any experience of humanity for more than five minutes generates; are humans redeemable? Would sentient, flesh-eating zombies be more civilised than earth-destroying, human rights crushing, murderous bipedal apes that think they're something special? Quick answer; no. Zombie civilisation is most certainly a fiction, but if you listen to the World Service long enough or drink deeply from the well of history you'd be left thinking the same about human civilisation too.
But genius, clever creativity and rightly lorded for that. Well done and I did eat it quickly, actually, hungrily - raaaah!
But only Three Stars (***) and a facial expression like this.
on 29 January 2016
Read this review along with others on my blog @ libroliv.com
Life is full of curiosities and dangers and questions and food and water and humans and animals and books like this.
Books like this are a rarity for they make you question each and every ounce of your humanity, each and every conscience, each and every response to each and every crime. The Girl With All The Gifts explores innocence deemed guilty and segregation for the both the right and wrong reasons. The Girl With All The Gifts changed my life.
Picture the scene: You're young, maybe 8 or 9, and you've never been inside. You're rarely free to walk around - constantly tethered to a chair - and when you are, it's in solitary confinement.
Picture the scene: You love to learn. You wake up each morning only because you know there's a brand new bundle of information to be absorbed. You go to sleep each night craving the information of a dying world.
Picture the scene: You're rarely touched, whether that's a graze of the arm or a slap to the cheek. Frankly, you're never touched. And then, your favourite teacher lowers her hand - purposely - to pat your head...
You're probably wondering if you're dangerous, or animalistic. Maybe you're neither, or maybe you're both, but we're told very little about this. What we are told, from the outset, is that Melanie loves school, lives in a cell, and awaits her days with teacher Miss Justineau. The rest is to be pieced together as we go.
It's difficult to picture a world where our world's collective fear comes to light. In this case, an international fungus epidemic that turns the entire world into flesh eating zombies. Peachy.
Carey, via this novel, has crafted an entire situation that could one day be true, and manipulated the world we live in to suit his vision. It's magnificent what he has managed to do in only 460 pages, so much so that I'm convinced Carey is an evil mastermind, and The Girl With All The Gifts is his plan to destroy the world.
Let's hope I'm exaggerating!
In short, this book is amazing. That's all you really need to know. And that you should read it, but that's a given.
Personally, I've never been drawn to post-apocalyptic novels, and I was apprehensive to get started on this book, but - seen as it was given to me as a Christmas gift - I saw no reason to put it off any further. This book is awesome, and I really enjoyed, definitely more so than I'd predicted.
One of my only criticisms for this book would be the mass of medical terms thrown about. I'm not a doctor - unlike one of the main characters, and often narrators - so I didn't always completely understand what was transpiring. I could, however, muddle my way through.
The only other negative would be that sometimes the inner monologue dragged out a little. Most of this book is moulded to the main character's thoughts and feelings, so it felt like a lot of the time I was inside someone's thoughts, and not experiencing the action outside of their body. But, aside from that, all perfect.
Overall, I thought this book was amazing, and thoroughly enjoyed it throughout, thus awarding it 4.5/5 stars.