Monday, 31 October 2022

The Girl With All The Gifts

From Bunkers
To Junkers

The Girl With
All The Gifts

by M. R. Carey
Orbit Books
ISBN: 9780356500157

This is a very short review to highlight the original novel The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey. I hesitate to call it the source novel for the amazing movie of the same name, since Carey also wrote the screenplay to that iteration of it while simultaneously working on this novel. So the two parts... novel and movie... grew together as an organic whole, it seems to me. There are some slight differences to the both versions and, the novel certainly is more detailed in the way the story is told, obviously... but the film is very faithful to the novel, as one would expect with such a closely shared conception of ideas.

The Girl With All The Gifts deals with a post apocalyptic Earth where zombies... known to the protagonists in the book as ‘hungries’... and focuses on a group who study/educate/experiment with a group of child hungries who are, to quote a popular childrens song... not like the others. At some point, the cruel and clinical world in which the main hungry Melanie (who is the reader’s POV for they majority of the book), the one we most see the world view from but, not nearly as much as that point of view is dominant in the movie... escapes with her crush of a school teacher Miss Justineau, the cruel Dr. Caldwell and two military men... when the military base they inhabit is breached by ‘junkers’, using hungries almost as a weapon to gain entrance. The book then, like the film, becomes a ‘road’ novel about trying to survive and thrive in what’s left of England, primarily trying to get through London.

The junkers are feral humans uninfected with the fungal virus which has turned most of mankind into eating machines but they weren’t included in the movie version. I actually prefer the cinematic view of the story in terms of this element as it’s simpler and, to my mind, the junkers don’t seem to achieve too much in the story except in terms of just giving the main characters something else to be wary of and think about.

I’m not going to spoil the ending of this novel but it is explained early on about a real life fungal virus which infects insects such as ants called ophiocordyceps unilateralis... which sticks to certain species and then takes control of their brains before making them climb the nearest tree, so a small tree-like substance can grow out of their head to release more spores. It’s a frightening concept and one which is well and truly alive in the world as we know it already. What M. R. Carey has done is to be inspired by this fungus, to some extent.... saying what would happen if something like this was able to infect the human race. Again, without giving too much away, this really made me appreciate the wonderful ending of the movie (which is very much reiterated in the novel) in a whole new light.

Similarly, there’s an early reference to Salvador Dali’s famous painting Autumnal Cannibalism which really pushes the metaphor about the human race, the global chaos ensuing from the initial outbreak and the species’ future trajectory. It’s possibly a bit too ‘on the nose’ right now with the state of global politics both here in the UK and farther afield but I enjoyed the shout out and, yeah, it makes one think about just what the author is trying to say here.

Carey occasionally shifts the viewpoint away from Melanie at certain times but, as I said, it’s primarily about her and the way she experiences the world as a ten year old girl. How long she’s been a ten year old girl, however, is up for debate but she’s certainly, especially in the novel where you are able to share every character’s thoughts, way more intelligent for her years. So she grasps situations very quickly and this makes her a much more dangerous character, in some ways, than the possibility that if she’s not very guarded with her own self awareness, she may accidentally eat the people around her.

And, yeah, this is a short review but I’ve not got too much to say. If you want to know more, I would happily point you to the spoiler free review of the movie I wrote a few years ago (right here) and recommend a read or a watch of this magnificent tale, in any media you wish to visit it in. The Girl With All The Gifts is a truly wonderful and interesting book and, although I was put off by one character in one passage seeming to know something about which she (or any of the others) couldn’t possibly have knowledge of, I found myself fascinated by the use of the child’s viewpoint which the writer throws himself into here. I’ve just discovered that Carey has also written a prequel to this book, The Boy On The Bridge... so that one’s definitely going to have to be a future purchase for sure. Straight onto the Christmas list.

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