The subject is dead but the pathogen that controls his nervous system isn’t even slightly deterred by the loss of a steering consciousness. It still knows what it wants, and it’s still the captain of this sinking ship.
I find it really difficult to review books that are so hot right now because A. I’d rather talk about the novels that won’t get approximately a bajillion reviews anyway and B. what else is there to say, really? This is exactly how I feel about The Girl With All The Gifts. Firstly, it really is as good as they say. Secondly, it’s a novel about the zombie apocalypse. And I may as well just stop writing there, right? You’re either into it or you’re not.
But I have to put more words on the page to make it worth your click through so here goes. It’s been about 20 years since the Breakdown. Around the planet cities and other dense urban populations are all but wiped out by “hungries”. Or, more to the point, wiped out by a parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps, that overrides the neural function of its human host, piloting its corpse in a quest to feed and in doing so extend its own species ever further.
Melanie is a particularly bright girl. She is, however, also gripped by an overpowering urge to feed on flesh when exposed to human pheromones. She lives in a cell in military research base Hotel Echo and each day a different teacher comes in to teach language and sums and history. She has a particular affinity for Ms Justineau. Helen Justineau is tasked with reporting psychological and learning aptitude observations to Caroline Caldwell. Dr Caldwell is a scientist. When they assembled Britain’s top scientists and tasked them with saving the world they had a list. They needed the best. Caldwell was not ranked among them. All those preferred great minds are dead now and, with salvaged and scavenged equipment, Caldwell is working to find out why kids like Melanie can talk and learn unlike other hungries – and whether they hold the secret to a cure.
What a wonderful pair of scientists the two of them are. Assembling known facts into valid inferences. Forensic minds refusing to quit in the face of this utter fucking nightmare.
Zombie stories need to cautionary tales. The best films featuring zombies force the viewer to question their own unthinking behavior, consumption, the rule of the mob and so forth. This one forces the reader to consider the nature of humanity. Melanie is infected. But she is a thinking contributing member of the little team that breaks out of Hotel Echo Base. Is she human? Are the hungries? Is this plague an extinction event or is it evolution? But this isn’t too philosophical to navigate, it is exactly what a zombie tale should be: accessible, gory and slightly scary in a matter of fact kind of way.
She feels for a sickening moment that she might be the last human being left alive on the face of a necrotic planet. And that it might not matter after all. To have the race that built these mausoleums lie in them finally, quiet and resigned, and crumble into dust. Who’d miss us?
I was particularly impressed by the way Carey flicks the narration from character to character, each one having their own unique voice from businesslike Dr Caldwell to the eternally pragmatic Sergeant Parks. I was also thrilled with the number of three dimensional female characters in the novel. Carey has a seemingly endless well of ideas, puzzles and surprises. The middle gets a little ropey in terms of pacing, but only slightly, and the ending is particularly satisfying. This has always been a film waiting to happen and if anything that bothered me a little, but only a little. This is a quick and fast read, with slightly more depth than you might expect for a zombie tale. Get a hold of it before the film comes out.
Girl With All The Gifts, M. R. Carey: Four and a half stars.
Read it to: know what the fuss is all about, get a little reality check.