Zombies are everywhere. They’ve broken their way through the barricaded world of cult obsession and entered popular culture. Even Brad Pitt fights them. We’re practically suffering an outbreak of shambling clones and glassy-eyed cash-ins, and so it’s hard not to immediately bash anything new on the head with a cricket bat and ignore it. But every so often, something new will come along and spin it in a fresher direction. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Zombie Survival Guide, Handling the Undead, Warm Bodies, Patient Zero and the nostalgic Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse all did something new with the genre and The Girl With All The Gifts has a mighty fine go as well.
Melanie is young girl in an unusual school. She spends her time learning about history and old myths, she loves her teacher, and she’s curious about everything around her. But she’s also troubled by the stories of the world outside the school, the man with the gun at her back and the strange things her classmates do when they get too close to the adults. But her comfortable routine is shattered when the outside world forces its way into her life, and she has to hit the road with her favourite teacher and her hated tormenters – a gruff and distrustful soldier and a scientist that terrifies her. Along the way she discovers who she is and what she has to offer the world, as well as her protectors coming to terms with the true nature of the contagion and the burgeoning parental relationship between Melanie and her teacher Miss Justineau.
Narrated by different characters in short POV chapters, the curtain covering the world is slowly pulled back until they are forced, blinking, into the open. Melanie’s chapters are a real highlight – her optimism and insatiable desire for knowledge cut through the more cynical sections narrated by the adults surrounding her. The plague itself is interesting – like the 2013 video game The Last of Us, The Girl With All The Gifts features a more organic form of zombie – a grotesque fungal infection based on a real disease affecting ants and other insects.
Although gory at times, The Girl With All The Gifts is a personal and quiet story of humanity, parenthood and responsibility, set amongst the infected and ravaged landscape of the UK. There’s a little of Ishiguro’s glorious Never Let Me Go in the early school-based sections, and a dab of McCarthy’s The Road in the second half, all coated in a gripping tale populated by a cast of zombies and a pace that doesn’t let up. A must for all zombie fans as well as those new to the genre.
Check it out if you enjoyed:
– The Passage by Justin Cronin
– Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro