I recently just finished reading ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’.
What a fabulous book.
I’ve seen the movie – but as I had laser eye surgery and wasn’t really able to keep my eyes open for an extended period of time – I thought what better opportunity would I have to read something I enjoy?
The Plot In The The Girl With All The Gifts [Book]
Published in 2014, a couple of years before the movie based upon the same book was released – M.R Carey’s book is a post-apocalyptic science fiction drama/horror in which most of humanity is dead.
We follow the transformative journey of four central characters as they try to survive in this new desolate world as the forward military base camp their setup in, is overrun by ‘junkers’. Junkers are hostile, cannibalistic scavengers who whilst humans, are depicted as being worse than hungries altogether.
The Characters In The Girl With All The Gifts [Book]
Before they’re overrun by Junkers herding hungries to run down on their basecamp, we meet the books central characters – Melanie the brilliant young hungry (as she doesn’t know it then) is kept confined to a classroom as well as locked room for her entire childhood years and is taught as an ordinary child would be by Miss Helen Justineau – a behavioural psychologist and teacher.
Melanie is the young, beautiful blonde hair blue eyed 10-year-old girl who later has her hair shaved. The story is often told from her perspective and we often see how talented a child she is with her remembrance of greek mythology alongside many many other stories she’s told by Miss Justineau – whom she is in love with like a kind of adopted mother.
Miss Helen Justineau is a black woman, with dark hair (these things are important as in the movie they reverse this screening and Melanie becomes black and Miss Justineau becomes white) who teaches the sentient child hungries at base camp Hotel Echo everything from Maths to literature.
The children are kept strapped to their wheeled chairs whilst Miss Justineau teaches them. Furthermore, she and all the other humans constantly wear e-blocker – a gel that blocks human scent which is what turns the children from sweet little things into raving hungries.
The other two characters are Sergeant Eddie Parks who leads the others away from Hotel Echo once it collapses and ultimately across the country and through London in a bid to reach Beacon. Beacon is the basecamp that contains some one-million souls that have gone ‘off-line’ for months now – signalling the ominous feeling that there’s ‘no Beacon’ anymore. This is something that lingers as a thought in the novel but one that is never directly addressed.
He has the signs of war on his face in the form of a huge scar across it which is continually made reference to in the book. He’s a non-commissioned officer, an experienced soldier in this new world – and presents someone who Miss Junstineau misjudges in his affection for her and his view upon the world as it is.
It’s fascinating to see the frows of their beleaguered romance develop until his ultimate death later in the book.
His character, with its nobility and protection of his troop, was one that I vastly enjoyed as the book developed and we begin to peel away at the layers of him and his complexities.
Finally, we have Dr Caroline Caldwell – a scientist tasked with trying to find or figure out how to synthesis a cure. Her involvement as we see is really the only reason that Hotel Echo exists.
It was set up as a forward operating base to capture ‘hungries’ demonstrating sentient thought like the children (rather than the bloodthirsty depraved zombies we meet at several junctures through the book). As we soon discover, Caldwell keeps the children under observation and uses the camp’s archaic equipment to dissect and perform experiments upon the children
Melanie is actually set to be chopped up right before the junkers attack their camp, whilst Miss Justineau is in Caldwell’s operating room fighting it out with her to save Melanie from being cut up.
Private Kieran Gallagher is the final character in the troupe of five who attempt to travel the 74 miles from Hotel Echo to Beacon via the countryside and then London once their tank stops running as they flee Hotel Echo.
He’s young, inexperienced and was born after the worldwide breakdown and it’s interesting to see how those born into the new world are so different from those who came before them. He’s never experienced a normal life as he’s lived all his life in Hotel Echo and Beacon and marvels at ‘old tech’ such as cassette players, and adult magazines as he later discovers in a newsagent where he meets his undoing.
The Plot In The Girl With All The Gifts [in more detail]
The story then follows the journey that the surviving team of five as they attempt to make their way across the country, travelling via tank, then foot and hiding in abandoned barns, houses and more as they ultimately make their way towards the climax of the book.
Along this journey, we get to a much deeper character sketch of each of the central figures of the novel.
Melanie, who saves Miss Justineau, is kept in a muzzle and handcuffs for much of the novel as they see what a potential threat she poses to the group. Melanie is in agreement with this recognising the survival of the group who are ultimately her family is vital.
As the novel develops we see the balance of power shift with Melanie beginning as the one who will be looked after by Miss Justineau as the one who looks after them all. She can move through the hungries undetected, can go on scouting missions, and with her genius-level IQ rapidly begins to form connections with the things she has been taught and what she sees outside in the world.
On their attempted journey to Beacon they go on to find the Rosalind Franklin – a mobile research lab also build for warfare seemingly abandoned in the city of London.
Caldwell, now dying of septicemia from a bad cut on her hand she picked up in the panic at Hotel Echo manages to capture one of the intelligent hungries in the city for further experimentation.
This is where she makes the startling discovery that Melanie soon confirms. There is no cure for this infection and in fact, the pods that they have discovered in London the stretch more than a mile long from the millions of hungries that have fallen ‘dead’ and decayed there have spawned a kind of super vector.
With the help of an environmental trigger of extreme heat – this will open up the pods and cause the virus to go airborne – which until that point has been triggered by blood and saliva.
Melanie is able to figure this all out with some small assistance from Caldwell and in the end, we see the novel shift into a new world.
Sergeant Parkes is bitten, saving Miss Justineau from being killed by one of the intelligent hungries – another group of children (like Melanie) found in the city by Melanie herself.
However, unlike Melanie, these ones are uneducated and tribal and have not formed language like humans.
Private Kieran Gallagher was killed sometime before after panicking and heading off on his own towards Beacon before doubling back to a newsagent to collect supplies for his trip and then being trapped and killed by the intelligent hungries.
Caldwell who will ultimately die of septicemia actually leads them all to the giant tree-like structure after attempting to drive the Rosalin Franklin away from her own imminent danger after trapping a child hungry and killing it for experimentation.
She reveals her discovery about this fungus to Melanie who then, with the help of Sergeant Parkes, is able to set the pods alight right before his death.
As the fire rages, we have Miss Justineau who is inside the air-tight room of the Rosalind Franklin as the fungus goes airborne.
The story ends with her now playing the role of Melanie, as she is lovingly kept inside the Rosalind Franklin as a willing prisoner to the intelligent hungries in this new world – as she begins teaching them as she taught Melanie, except this time as a captor rather than the jailor.
My Analysis Of The Girl With All The Gifts [Book]
What a fabulous and fast-paced novel in which Carey is able to drive fantastic character development and reversal of roles through Miss Justineau and Melanie.
There is high drama and high levels of action as we’re constantly kept on the edge of our seat as we see the group go from one predicament to another.
Seeing the world through Melanie’s eyes and her reconciling that which she has studied with the world outside is fascinating. Alongside her deep humanity, in determining to protect her group as much as she can – alongside battling with the moral snare she finds herself in when discovering the group of intelligent child-like hungries in the city.
In her love for Miss Justineau, she does all she can to keep her safe and keep her away from herself when the hunger overcomes her – and instead wanders out into the city to feed on animals.
Alongside this, we see the obsession and ‘higher purpose’ of Dr Caldwell who is obsessed with finding a cure to this disease and has a very clinical way of looking at the world.
I’ve not read a (not that I’ve read many at all) zombie thriller like this, and it kept me massively gripped to the extent that when eating my dinner a couple of times I opted to listen to the novel rather than watch something.
I finished the whole novel in 2 or 3 days flat and it was fascinating to see a ‘hungry’ who displayed more humanity than any of her captors be the one to lead them into this new world.
The moments of realisation from Parkes at the end when he realises what he has done in setting the flamethrower on over the spores and the coming-of-age we see rapidly in Melanie is an impressive read.
Arguably it happens a little too quickly and the book ratchets from one intense scene to others and it’s possible at times readers might find this a little disconcerting.
Personally – I loved it.
However, thematically there are some interesting features –
The paradoxical nature of the mind of the military man is revealed as we get to juxtapose the order of the approach that Parkes and Gallagher take against their internal dialogue.
And the sense of existential horror that comes from whether Beacon even ‘awaits’, what will become of them feels like one impending apocalypse after another.
Furthermore, we see the twisted relationship between the clinical Caldwell who refuses to see Melanie as nothing more than a creature whilst we visit Melanie’s complex character development set against her very real need to consume living flesh.
Also, by the book’s end, we also have Justineau being the black woman enslaved and the white-blonde hair, blue-eyed girl who is her captor – which is arguably provocative.
And the echoes of a past world and relationships that would have been reinforced the new age they are in as in moments of downtime we see the interaction between Parkers and Justineau, the kiss they ultimately share, the small delights of Parkes in the newsagent upon finding adult magazines and the wonder of Melanie as she sees the hungry children in a theatre incredulously. She’s like a theatre go-er interrupting in a closed-door rehearsal for a show that will be running shortly after.
In this way, it also feels like we are in those same shoes as we watch all at Hotel Echo, and the journey the character goes on as ultimately a dress rehearsal for the real, undying world they find themselves in.
A great novel I highly recommend anyone read.