While programmes like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have found mainstream popularity, it’s still unusual in the book world for genre fiction to break out of its confines and find a wider audience.
One novel that is doing that is M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts – a zombie novel which transcends the boundaries of its genre to become something more.
Melanie is a very special little girl. She loves to learn, especially from her favourite teacher Miss Justineau. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When the soldiers come for her, one points a gun at her, while the other straps her into her chair so she can’t even turn her head.
Our protagonist is 10-year-old Melanie, a zombie child in a world where zombies – or ‘hungries’ as they’re called in this novel – have taken over Britain. The only survivors live in army bases like the one Melanie lives in, enclosed havens like the distant Beacon, or out on the streets, as vigilantes.
Melanie might be a 10-year-old hungry, but she’s an intelligent, emotionally aware human being, and one whose voice immediately draws the reader in. I found myself liking Melanie from the moment I met her. As we see the world through Melanie’s eyes, we learn about the other characters true selves – there’s no hiding from children, and her outlook and opinions are brutally honest.
The story is told in third person, with chapters switching between Melanie, Miss Justineau and occasionally tough soldier Sergeant Parks and scientist Dr Caldwell (and, briefly, young soldier Gallagher). As the world Melanie lives in changes rapidly, the changing focus becomes important. We learn more about Britain as it is now, the town of Beacon, where the group are headed, and the hungry pathogen.
The Girl With All the Gifts is not a book that is heavy on plot. If anything, it’s a road trip book, but with some zombies chucked in. The Girl With All the Gifts concentrates on human emotion and interaction, and examines how we perceive threats to our lives and where danger truly lies. It’s a book about relationships – between colleagues, enemies and friends, but primarily between mentor and mentee, teacher and student, and, I believe, between mother and child.
My edition of The Girl With All the Gifts features a quote from Jenny Colgan, describing the book as “Kazuo Ishiguro meets The Walking Dead“. I’ve never seen the latter, but I completely agree with the former. The Girl With All the Gifts packed the same emotional punch I experienced when I first read Never Let Me Go. I found the last few chapters of The Girl With All the Gifts heartrending, and had to take a few deep breaths when I got to the end (which I still find myself thinking about).
If you’re a little wary of genre fiction, and don’t really like to touch sci-fi/fantasy, I urge you to give The Girl With All the Gifts a go. You’ll soon forget it’s about zombies (that word isn’t used) and instead you’ll just find yourself caught up in a brilliant story.
How I got this book: From the publisher, Orbit. This in no way affected my review.