(note: this is for the book, not the recent film adaptation)
Another dystopian future, I hear you cry? I guess there must be a trend… The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey, gives us a believable look into a zombie apocalyptic future. It takes place two decades after a variation of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (it’s real, I looked it up. Check “Cordyceps: attack of the killer fungi” on Youtube. David Attenborough even calls it “something out of science fiction”) has caused the apocalypse – but this plot reads as the most sophisticated, understandable zombie-story I’ve ever come across, within a topic that I would usually shrug off as fantasy.
The zombies in TGWALG are known as ‘hungries’; humans whose nervous systems have been taken over by the parasitic fungus, whose sole purpose is to hunt down non-infected humans and bite them – both to eat them as protein, and to pass the pathogen on through spit and blood, transferring the fungus. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time Ophiocordyceps has been used as a potential zombie-creator. A friend pointed out to me that this is the same fungus used by the console game The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog. Interesting coincidence, although in The Last of Us the fungus is also airborne, whereas in Carey’s novel, this hasn’t happened.
TGWATG follows a third-person omnipresent narrative, focusing on four main characters. The most prominent and interesting of these four is Melanie, a 10-year-old child genius… who also happens to be a hungry. She has grown up in a lab with other hungry children who all still have a self-consciousness (unlike the usual hungries, which have reverted to an less-than animal-like state). Enter: Parks, an army sergeant charged with looking after the lab’s security; Dr. Caldwell, the scientist trying to understand the miraculous hungry children and use them to find a cure; and Helen Justineau, the woman who teaches the hungry children, and who Melanie sees as a surrogate mother. Input: chaos, and watch their lives get drastically altered. Nothing will ever be the same again.
I find the ‘hungries’ a genuinely horrifying idea; unlike your traditional zombie, they’re fast, mobile, and once they get your scent, cannot be distracted from the hunt. Originally, I decided to read the book so that when I went to see the film, I would have some idea of the scare-rate, and I’m certainly glad I did, because I would not have been expecting their aggression (saying that, my local cinema didn’t even show the film, so I still have yet to see it). One of my favourite things about Carey’s writing, though, is the depth of every character and the post-apocalyptic world that was created. Half of the characters we get to know were born after the “Breakdown”, and it is interesting – refreshing, even – to see the way they view their new world, as someone who is part of the ‘old’ one.
Set in England, there are a lot of mentions to London, its outlying towns, and pre-apocalyptic memorabilia which I found were easy ways to be drawn into the world of the story. That, and Melanie’s thought processes are incredible; detailed, well structured, and easy to empathise with. I had to keep reminding myself she was 10. Sometimes, I did find myself thinking there were too many similes chucked in that drew attention away from the ongoing plot, but otherwise there was good, thorough description and thoughtful, researched science when the chapters focused on Dr. Caldwell and her research.
A thoroughly refreshing – if horrifying – look on a potential zombie apocalypse, The Girl With All The Gifts is dark, well-paced and an ultimately touching story. It is both deeply, totally human, whilst heavy with science that portrays a scary, animalistic future. Also, it has an absolutely killer ending that I never, ever saw coming. Verdict: 8/10.