Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book review: The Girl with All the Gifts

Whatever it may say about Western culture these days, a particularly dark, pessimistic genre of art seems to have arisen in the last couple decades. A neighbor of mine once referred to it as "zombie porn." It's a variation on the holocaust meme that ran through earlier books like, On the Beach or Lord of the Flies, but with a twist. Instead of portraying a world in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust (the Soviet Union is some 25 years gone, after all), the new spin on apocalypse is infrastructure collapse, viral infections, or some other equally terrifying cataclysm, in the aftermath of which, survivors must contend with hordes of cannibals or zombies.

M. R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts is one such book.

A young girl, Melanie, exists in a strange world where she and other children are held captive, isolated but for their time in a school classroom, where they are bound to their chairs and taught mathematics, reading, writing, and (especially) Greek mythology. Their lessons are taught by a compassionate young woman, Ms. Justineau, for whom Melanie has developed an admiring crush. An austere administrator, Dr. Caldwell oversees the school and the children. A menacing, hard-boiled military man, Sargent Parks, provides security for the facility.

That's about as much of the plot I want to reveal, since Carey goes to pains to conceal the nature of the world so that the reader may discover it over the course of the opening chapters. Suffice it to say that mankind is under assault, and that civilization teeters on annihilation. (If you really want to know, go to the Wikipedia page. They blab.)

In fact, the process of discovery, which occurs over the first half of the book, is the most intriguing and compelling part of the novel. Unfortunately, once the truth is laid out, a significant event transpires, transforming the story to a standard "zombie gauntlet run."

At times, Carey's prose became tedious. He seemed to overuse the adjective "really" to the point of abuse, which became distracting and annoying. But, all in all, I found Carey to be a decent writer. He put effort into character development. Although I wouldn't call the characters in this novel "complex," he does provide them with plausible backgrounds and motivations. That's more than you'll get from a lot of genre fiction writers.

Carey's creation may lack the eloquence and beauty of McCarthy's The Road, but it is certainly more intriguing than Atwood's drab, half-hearted Oryx and Crake.

All in all, The Girl with All the Gifts is a good, fast read. The perfect pastime for a rainy Portland winter.

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