The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey is my new favourite novel. I am not going to use the Z word to describe its genre, but this is a unique take on an apocalyptic thriller that will change the way you see the world for the weeks after you have finished it.
This is a book to be devoured, to be finished in one or two sitting so that its catastrophic plot can be truly absorbed. Set in a post-apoclyptic Britain, somewhere not far from London, is an army base where strange experiments are being undertaken on children who are muzzled, tied to chairs and fed grubs prior to being sprayed with chemicals.
Whilst the initial desperation of the book’s protagonist, Melanie, and the other children at the base is of normal children in extraordinary circumstances, a shift in the narrative slowly tilts the reader towards understanding. These are not children. In a world divided into hungries- former people who now feed from flesh and have no real mind of their own- and humans, these are the in-between people. Children who are both neither hungry nor human, but something in between.
Kept under control, the children live as normal kids- when exposed to human scent, they transform into monsters.
It is the notion of what it is to be human that is questioned throughout The Girl with All the Gifts. By being human but not quite, Melanie and her kind make the reader and the human characters question whether humanity is a biological or a social construct.
Alongside Melanie, the book centres around a band of humans who join her in fleeing the base after it is ambushed. Helen Justineau, a teacher from the base, alongside two soldiers and the base’s medical lead, Dr Cadwell, form the basis of Carey’s social commentary, as we see them fight their varying feelings for Melanie: from Sergeant Parks, who calls her a monster, to Justineau, who believes she is a sweet little girl, to Cadwell, who views her nothing more than a host for the virus that causes hungries. These five central characters are the novel’s central construct, and are as unique as the premise, forcing readers to consider their own prejudices as they condemn or side with the characters.
The novel is set to be released as a film later this year, but I would urge readers to enjoy this truly innovate and exciting book before Hollywood turns it into a two hour shouting match with added sex appeal.