If you are a regular reader (and thankyou ever so much for stopping by!) you’ll know that I recently joined a post-apocalyptic book club. Well I went to the second meet-up this week and we discussed The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R Carey. The overall consensus was that we really enjoyed the book, thinking that it started off extremely strong and whilst some of the plot developments might employ a few too many zombie-story tropes the characters, for us, redeemed it.
The novel starts by introducing us to Melanie, who just like any other little girl loves stories, enjoys going to school and dreams of growing up and becoming a beautiful princess. However Melanie is not like other children. Along with her classmates she is infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis a parasitic fungus which turns its host into a zombie-like creature with a craving for human flesh. The rest of Britain has been virtually wiped out by the spread of this virus; however some infected by the fungus – all of them children – maintain their mental functions, existing in a state somewhere between the ‘hungries’ and the humans. The classroom Melanie is in is on an Army base where an array of teachers aim to see how much cognitive function the children retain.
Miss Justineau is the children’s favourite teacher. With them secured into wheelchairs and Miss Justineau covered up with an e-blocker that prevents her scent from reaching the children, she teaches them about Greek Mythology as well as countries and cities of a civilisation that once was. When the bases resident scientist, Caroline Candwell decides that the only way to discover the root of the fungal infection is to kill and dissect all of the children – Miss Justineau steps in to save Melanie. As she confront Caldwell the base is attacked by junkers (other survivors, who are not part of the Army) . They have driven vast herds of hungries into the base – destroying their defences as well as wiping out the majority of surviving humans. Melanie, Miss Justineau and Caldwell are unexpectedly thrown together and as they escape are joined by two military men. Because of what Melanie is – the two men want to kill/abandon her; however (albeit due to different motives) Miss justineau and Caldwell convince them to keep her with them. They reach a compromise and muzzle her – setting off on an attempt to reach a place where they believe there to be survivors – the Beacon.
What I really liked about this book was the character of Melanie; she develops so much throughout the story. Initially we meet an exceptionally bright young girl who has no memory of the world outside of the space she occupies – instead she gains her information from old textbooks and pieces together mythology to make sense of her world. When she realises what she is – a hungry – she soon begins to notice what separates them and her, and even manages to control her hunger. By the end of the novel we realise how important these hybrid children are to man’s continuation, and more specifically how important Melanie is – as she has learnt about the past and is thus able to inform the future.
As a book club we also enjoyed how well thought out the fungal parasite was – having all seen the articles about how a similar parasite exists within ants. The parasite explained why the hungries would congregate together – something which always I have always queried in zombie movies. Drawing ideas from nature, animals often congregate to reproduce and that is what this parasite motivates within the hungries, when mature they congregate in order that the fungi might grow together and thus release the spores needed to infect more victims.
Have any of you read this novel? Who was your favourite character? I have to admit that I had a soft spot for Caldwell – even though she was totally inhumane she was so so dedicated and determined to do what she believed was right that I couldn’t help but grudgingly like her.