Tuesday, 18 February 2014
Review: The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey
Format: Hardcover / eBook
Released: January 14th, 2014
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 an excellent book, but one that is very hard to review without giving spoilers away. I've left writing this review for almost two weeks, mainly because I think I just needed to process it and everything that it offered. There's a lot going on, a lot to take in, and a lot to mourn. It's terrifying in the sense that maybe this could actually happen one day, and we could all find ourselves in a similar situation. Who knows what future path the human race will take?
Before I go any further, I need to somehow talk about what this book's about. It's a dystopian, post-apocalyptic thriller with a twist. At some unspecified time in the future, Earth's population has significantly decreased. There aren't many survivors (think The Walking Dead levels of decimation) and those that are left are mostly children being kept at a military base. Of the adults that remain there, some are teachers and scientists while some are like wardens, charged with keeping the children safely encaged when they're not needed in the classroom. Melanie is one of these children, a bright, endearing ten-year-old with a high IQ, who takes a shine to her teacher Miss Justineau. Melanie, along with the other kids, is literally kept in chains and doesn't know why. Neither does the reader, but they soon will.
This book is extremely tense, horrific and ridiculously compelling. I ended up reading it all in one sitting, which took me a while. It's the kind of book that takes hold of you and doesn't let go until every twist has been turned, every secret revealed and every horror experienced. It's not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination - it's actually quite horrifying when you get into the heart of it - but it's all brilliant. I know I'm being deliberately vague here, but it's the kind of book that will be completely and utterly spoiled if you know everything going on. The beauty of it is reading further and watching everything fit into place.
It's a very character-driven novel, with a lot of exploration focusing on Melanie, Miss Justineau and scientist Caroline Caldwell. Miss Justineau is fantastic from start to finish; she's like a mother figure to Melanie and is possibly the only person working at the military base who owns a conscience. She's quiet but strong, hiding an inner strength that breaks out when it's most needed. Caldwell is the definition of a villain, but again this is ambiguous throughout the novel. To her she's just a scientist trying to make a breakthrough and possibly save humanity, but to Miss Justineau she's a stone cold killer. I went through phases of liking and understanding Caldwell and then absolutely despising her and what she stands for. Author M.R. Carey has a knack for doing that - he takes a stereotype and spins it around until their intended direction is no longer clear. It raises questions of good and evil and what we, as a society, deem acceptable, while also creating a character with much more depth than meets the eye. Melanie is also fascinating, though in a different way. She's the innocent all this, forced to live in shackles and live a regimented life full of rules and regulations, while all she wants to do is learn and make Miss Justineau proud. Melanie is a complicated character who really comes into her own later in the novel and, as you've probably guessed, has a huge part to play in proceedings. She may seem all innocent and fragile, but underneath a weak exterior is something just waiting to be unleashed. And when it is, it becomes clear that she's the one worth fighting for.
The whole setting of this book makes for an interesting discussion by itself. We never find out the state of the whole world and whether it's the same everywhere. There are a lot of questions left unanswered, but really the story is about this one little place and the state of their existence. It's a compact, complicated exploration of life and human beings after everything they know has been irrevocably changed, and always asks the question of what you'd do in this situation. Would you try and help like Miss Justineau or, like Caldwell, would you work tirelessly to figure out the secrets of this new Earth? I honestly don't know which category I'd fall into, which for me is the beauty of this book. For me there are no true villains, just people taking a different approach to a devastating turn of events.
The Girl With All The Gifts is one of those books that you just have to read for yourself. No cryptic synopsis can do it justice, just as no vague comparisons can truly tell you what it's really about. I've been thinking about this book for almost two solid weeks, weighing up my thoughts and deciding what to say to make other people want to read it. All I can come up with is that it's unlike anything I've read before (which could be because I don't often dip into adult literature), full of action, shocking revelations and understated moments centred around a likeable cast of characters. It's slightly too long and does get away with itself every now and then, but it comes right back and continues to grip you until the very last page. And that's really all I can ask for from a book.