I’ve seen The Girl With All The Gifts compared to both Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go – modern masterpieces from two of the world’s greatest living writers.
I can only assume the critics who made those comparisons haven’t actually read those great books. While there are some superficial similarities – The Road’s post-apocalyptic setting and Never Let Me Go’s theme of childhood innocence – this is a trashy genre novel putting on airs.
McCarthy and Ishiguro both took much-maligned genres – horror and sci-fi respectively – and elevated them with incredible storytelling and writing. One gets the sense M.R. Carey, a pen name for British comic book writer Mark Carey, is trying to do the same but his talents just don’t match his ambition. His writing is clunky, his plotting amateurish and his characterisation weak.
It’s 20 years since society fell victim to a mutated version of Cordyceps, the real-life parasitic fungus that turns insects into mindless zombies. They’re not called zombies here – Carey opts for the strangely infantile “hungries” – but they’re the same mindless undead cannibals we’ve seen a million times before.
Except that is for a small group of children – including the titular girl Melanie – who are not mindless: they’re infected and have a definite taste for human flesh but they can also think, talk and learn. What accounts for this mutation? Do the children hold the key to mankind’s salvation or ultimate destruction?
This has been called a “startingly original” premise but to this zombie-lit veteran it feels entirely derivative. Cordyceps was done in the video game, The Last of Us; and both the film Warm Bodies and the TV show In The Flesh tackled the idea of a half-zombies, or recovery from zombification.
There are some surprises towards the end that redeem the book somewhat but if you’re looking for a real literary take on zombies, try Colson Whitehead’s 2011 novel Zone One instead.
Next: Selected non-fiction.