‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ – M.R. Carey

I admit to watching ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ’28 Days Later’ and even laughing at the zombie street pimps scene in ‘Hollywood Shuffle’, but I would never call myself a fan of the zombie movie/novel. A reading challenge I was involved in this month meant ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ was one of my first reads…and I was uncertain what I’d make of it.

We’re told that in the future a strange fungus has changed virtually everyone into a thoughtless, flesh-eating monster. Known as ‘hungries’ these monsters are pretty efficient killers – once they’ve picked up a scent. However, there are some who do not appear to be quite the same as the others.

Our story begins with a truly awful opening, showing us our main character Melanie being strapped into her chair and taken to a classroom where she is taught along with a small group of other children. The purpose of their lessons is simply to monitor the extent to which they can retain information and to allow the scientists working with them to try and find a cure to save humanity.

Watching events through Melanie’s eyes is upsetting. They are treated with little humanity and this is hard to take – until we get a stark reminder of what happens to these children when they get a whiff of human flesh.

While this is all well and good, a whole book focused on a dead child – albeit one with a genius IQ – would not be entertaining. So, alongside Melanie we have a cast of very different adults who become central to Melanie’s existence.

I loved the way we slowly get to know more of the background to these characters as the story progresses. Dr Caldwell was, in my mind, a real monster – but deliberately so as she juxtaposes the more nurturing and caring character of Melanie’s teacher Miss Justineau. I came to really admire this disparate group as they take amazing risks in order to try and help one another.

Unexpectedly thought-provoking (though I will always be tempted to skip the more graphic descriptions of flesh-eating) and I’m not surprised this has been turned into a movie. I would have liked to know more about the background to the virus, and am definitely going to look at the second book by Carey – ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ – which is set about a decade prior to the events of this novel.