It’s always interesting getting to a novel after the masses have already made their mark – reading, consuming and passing judgment, be it positive or negative. There almost seems to be pressure to agree with what so many have said before you, as to do anything otherwise would likely be be dismissed as idiosyncratic taste, or chalked up to being a simple case of “That person just not getting it.” Yet a reviewer likes what a reviewer likes; or doesn’t as the case may be. And with regard to The Girl With All The Gifts, my opinion seems to dovetail significantly from that of the masses.
What starts as a limited perspective of a strange class room in which all the children are strapped into chairs and treated as if they are rabid animals by soldiers, even as they’re taught lessons about subjects such as literature, math and history, very quickly becomes a road survival story set in a post-apocalyptic world. It will take the average reader about 3.5 pages to work out what is happening in this novel, but author M. R. Carey takes his time in dolling out pertinent information on how most of the world became zombie like monsters, infected with something that destroys all but the most primitive areas of the brain. The titular character, Melanie, displays incredible intelligence and emotional range for what is supposed to be a monster, so much so that she forms a two-way emotional bond with the most human of her teachers. When the inevitable tragedy occurs that sets them on the path to a supposedly safe city, complete with a handful of other characters who all have wildly different views of Melanie and what should be done with her, the story becomes a fairly standard get from Point A to Point B, whilst avoiding all manner of threats in this crazy new world, scenario.
It took me a long time to read this 400 page novel because it never really drew me in. I had to force myself to pick it up and read another twenty or thirty pages. This was not because the book was badly written. Carey writes deftly and his prose rests easy on the eye and ear. No, my issue was that I felt like I’d seen it all before, namely in the hit Playstation game of 2013, The Last of Us. There’s the adult-child parental relationship, the need for the adult to be healed by said relationship, the journey across the post-apocalyptic landscape, and of course, the fact that the infection which turns people into what-amounts-to-zombies being an advanced form of fungus – all of which appeared in that game. It’s weirdly coincidental and almost uncanny, even if I realise Carey would have been writing this well before that game was released.
All of the characters are reasonably well detailed, even if they become almost become caricatures in the extremes of personality they display, but I struggled to care for any of them. Melanie, of course, being the exception, because without that connection this novel would fall flat on its fairly bloated ass.
I did, however, like the ending and how it (sort of) wrapped up its story without feeling the need to promise 4 to 9 more volumes detailing more of the same. Though be prepared for how quickly things ramp up toward the end, almost as if Carey realised he did not want a door stop of a novel and wanted to trim some of that ass bloat off the climatic scenes of the book.
All in all then, I certainly did not hate The Girl With All The Gifts, but I am somewhat baffled by the showerings of praise that have been lavished upon it. To me it was little more than a standard entry in an otherwise saturated sub-genre.
3 Tubes of e-blocker for The Girl With All The Gifts.