NOT EVERY GIFT IS A BLESSING Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh. Melanie is a very special girl.
Many of us have come away from a Walking Dead marathon or after re watching Dawn of the Dead for the hundredth time to ponder what would really happen if a pandemic of apocalyptic proportions were to occur?
Would humanity go to shit as quickly as these events predict? Would people really loot and rape and fight just a few days in? I know panic can do strange things to people but deep down you hope that we would hold on to what makes us fully functional individuals – our humanity.
I can’t remember exactly where I read a synopsis for M.R Carey’s novel, The Girl with all the Gifts, but I instantly knew I would enjoy it. It’s set in a post apocalyptic setting and there’s ‘zombies’. That’s all I need to know.
However, like much of the media set in an apocalyptic Dystopian universe we rarely get to see the events unfold. It has always happened and we are left to fill in gaps that the author leaves open for us.
The Girl with all the Gifts begins in the same way, opening our eyes to Melanie’s world and what she experiences on a day to day basis – strapped into a chair and wheeled into a room for school lessons with other children like her.
We are confused, saddened and made to feel pity throughout the first few pages but we also know that in some way Melanie is dangerous.
We also discover later that the novel is actually set at least 20 years in the future after the infection has devastated most of the population. I love that the book is set in England, it’s rare that I read horror that isn’t set in the U.S, either in New York or the South so it’s refreshing to read place names I actually recognise. For a British person the story feels more personal, unique and the concept more terrifying because it’s closer to home.
Our reaction to characters stems from Melanie’s experiences with them, we instantly feel warmth towards Miss Justineau, Melanie’s teacher, and dislike towards Sergeant Parks, the gruff and aggressive guy in charge of the facility we first find Melanie in. We also distrust and fear Dr Caldwell, the cold and calculating scientist working at the facility.
This novel is not your typical zombie horror piece, it’s telling through the eyes of a child is harrowing and even I was shocked in places by some of the events (and looking back on my University creative writing, I probably came across as a disturbed individual). Some of the infected also cling on to shreds of their past lives, which when described is chilling later in the novel (the thought of a zombie pushing a pram might sound comical but it’s a moment in the book that haunts me even now).
Melanie is a special protagonist and as she develops and grows throughout the story you come to really love her, even though you know that in that situation you should fear her.
In conclusion, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s the perfect mix of emotive storytelling and disturbing horror. There are characters to fall in love with and characters you will end up absolutely despising. These are also characters with flaws, while Miss Justineau might be depicted as an angel in Melanie’s eyes she is most definitely not perfect.
If you’re looking for your next horror to get engrossed in, this book is it.
I’ve read online that a film adaptation is in production now (although the name has been changed, to ‘She who Brings Gifts‘) with Glenn Close as Dr Caldwell and Gemma Arterton as Helen Justineau. Now, I’ve got a little bone to pick with the casting of Gemma Arterton.
I know that with any adaptation there is some artistic license but I thought I’d share with you the description from the book of the character:
“She likes to guess what Miss Justineau will be wearing, and whether her hair will be up or down. It’s usually down and it’s long and black and really crinkly so it looks like a waterfall…”
“Miss Justineau’s face stands out anyway because it’s such a wonderful, wonderful colour. It’s dark brown, like the wood of the trees in Melanie’s rainforest picture…or like the coffee that Miss Justineau pours out of her flask…Except it’s darker and richer than either of those things…”
Now, that isn’t really a description of Gemma Arterton is it? I’d like to point out that there are plenty of fantastic, beautiful actresses of colour who would fit the role perfectly and I find it really disappointing that they would stray so much from the book’s description.
Nathalie Emmanuel, Joy Bryant, Naomie Harris (she’s already #bossbitched the zombie movie role), Lenora Crichlow, Phina Oruche….these ladies would all bring Miss Justineau to life, tie in with the book’s description and represent women of colour, in what could be a chart topping film. Come on Hollywood!
I’m a bit of a stickler for sticking to character descriptions, at least when there is an adaptation of a book. You would have avoided me after seeing the latest Harry Potter film, growing up.
I’m also hoping the film also deals with some of the darker aspects of the book and doesn’t attempt to skirt round the issues it explores. I would note these but it would reveal some big spoilers.
Have you read The Girl with all the Gifts? What did you think? And will you be going to the cinema to see its film adaptation?