The Girl With All the Gifts by M R Carey
|The Girl With All the Gifts by M R Carey|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A lurch from one kind of book to another early on does not diminish the qualities in this intriguing and intelligent genre piece.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: January 2014|
Meet Melanie. Not something that's likely to happen, but it's a standard introduction and I'll run with it. If you do find her, it's either in a subterranean cell, or a classroom. Or the shower-room, where she and the other children get disinfected, and get to eat a bowl of maggots – the only nutrition they have all week. All this is on a military base so secure they've only seen a few members of staff – either military or mostly lacklustre teachers – and they've certainly no real hope of seeing sunlight. They are there because of the Breakdown, when most of the world got turned into ravenous, mindless hungries. But these children did not turn all the way. And as unlikely as it is, as implausible a heroine as she is, young Melanie might just be the saviour of mankind.
I'll not belittle my review by stating the obvious – what the hungries are called by any other genre book. And anyway, with a novel this good there's hardly any belittling to be had. The very fact we start entirely in Melanie's world and focused on her is bravura writing, and should be enough to see this book full of the unlikely breach genre walls. It's such a rarefied world, full of nightmarish detail and design, with only one thing positive in it, like a budding growth after a forest fire – the talent and empathy of Miss Justineau, a beautiful, coloured member of the teaching staff. It's clear early on that many people don't hold anything by Melanie and her ilk, but she's human enough to receive a kind of maternal relationship with Miss Justineau, and the emotion is in some ways returned.
This allows for a major lurch in the book after a relevant section, which sends it much more deeply into the realms of gone-before genre writing, but still here the writer's craft is to the fore. This much larger section of novel still has unforeseen growth and talent in it, and even when we feel on firm ground the rug gets pulled just too quickly. That's partly allowed because Mike Carey knows his characters, and in his hands it's very simple for him to jump from one to another and keep us alert and entertained. Not perhaps alert enough for us to see everything – I think there are things about the ending I should have twigged pages beforehand, but was just having too much fun to think about.
It's a bleak kind of fun all told, but it's rich – certainly richer than the genre books I speak of (and those Carey was also responsible for in his earlier career as a comix writer). As if you don't have a most realistic, detailed and visual world to enter here, and as if you don't have a superlatively different kind of heroine, you have the further layering of Melanie's favourite subject at school. For she liked nothing more than to hear Miss Justineau read tales of Greek myth to the class, and that leaches on to these pages. Early on Melanie declares her name should instead be Pandora – the original 'girl with all the gifts'. This carrier of hope comes with so much intelligence, a solid narrative as the myths bore only after centuries of being refined, and almost as universal an appeal. It's a book with compassion it's worth being passionate about; a book with legs that is worth hastening to read before the film gets made; and a genre-busting book worthy of many a comment along the lines of 'you know what, you might not normally read this kind of novel but I think you'll enjoy it'. Because I do.
For further real-world tales of Apocalypse set in England, with a family group travelling recognisable roads, I recommend Bringing Forth the End of Days by Simon Law.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl With All the Gifts by M R Carey at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl With All the Gifts by M R Carey at Amazon.com.
The Girl With All the Gifts by M R Carey is in the Top Ten Fantasy Novels of 2014.
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