I have recently finished reading ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ by M R Carey, at points it is a book with great potential, some great characters and a storyline that keeps the readers interest. The potential however does not quite match up to the reality. All the things I would usually love in a book where here, futuristic dystopian theme, bold strong female characters, human strength against all odds, complex relationships between characters and a common enemy. The synopsis was certainly enticing, giving a brief snippet, just enough to wet the appetite as some may say, but not too much to give anything away. The book is written from the outside perspective, giving you, the reader, a good insight into the thoughts, perspectives and motivations of each of the characters. This also means that at various points throughout you can potentially back different characters, the writing style definitely helps to get you involved in the storyline. The story starts with Melanie and the basics of her existence, her limited experience of life highlighted by the discussion of the simple things around her, the pictures on the walls, and the ‘blue sticky stuff’ that holds them up, the corridor with all its cell doors and overheard conversations. This starting point really creates an image of an innocent child, a victim of an oppressive regime perhaps or being kept against her will by tyrants, her only insight into life are the simple surrounding stimuli in her otherwise bare cell. We are soon introduced to Miss Justineau, the writing style and language straight away insinuates the strong emotions she has for this woman, and the pull towards her. The little things Miss Justineau does, brings light into Melanie’s existence, the stories and books she reads to her class highlighted early on, I like this as these stories come into relevance later on in the story and help Melanie to understand he wider world as she explores it. This relationship is brought into the storyline early on to highlight its significance on the entire story. The subject of Pandora is introduced on p12, giving the book it’s name ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ subtly slipping in ‘Pandora opening up the box and letting all the terrible things out’ Melanie thinks Pandora was set up and should not be blamed, I like the association here to Melanie having some ‘terrible’ things within her that she is not to blame for unleashing at some point and in fact she did not ask for, giving us the 2 sides to Melanie, the sweet innocent girl, and the monster within, yet to be seen.
We are set up by the writer to feel negativity towards Sergeant Parks as the story progresses when he is introduced after the backdrop of the innocent child and her caring teacher as he antagonizes one of the children, Kenny, and questions Miss Justineau’s teaching styles. A quick insight into the fact that all is not quite right with the not so innocent children. ‘You don’t want to get attached to them…you know what they’re here for’ on page 17 gets us asking ourselves, what are they here for? Miss Justineau is not ready to admit to herself the true reality of the children’s situation. Talk moves on to absent parents and the effect of this on Melanie, we the reader are led to empathize with her and see her human element. Melanie shows empathy too, ‘something about her is wounded and not healing, and hurting her all the time’ p26 talking about Miss Justineau, this empathetic element bringing for a millionth of a second a recognition within us, the reader, of the common ground the we share with Melanie, bringing further confusion within us about the human vs monster that we are being introduced too. Melanie’s naivety reminds us of her age when on p46 she states about Mr Whittaker another teacher, ‘He brings his bottle into class – the bottle full to the brim with the medicine that makes him first better and then worse’ as the story makes a reference to alcoholism as a way to cope with the life changing events that are at he backdrop of the story. As a reader and someone who has been a child of an alcoholic parent myself, I have to say, if alcoholism could be summed up in one sentence, this one may well be it.
As the story progresses we meet Dr Caldwell, a cold, determined and ambitious woman with her ‘Workshop of filthy creations’ p52. She is a driven, clinical and intelligent woman, we see that she engages in wrongful acts for the greater good and holds no guilt for this whatsoever but single mindedly strives towards her target of a cure for the disease that Melanie and so many others are inflicted with. It is hard for us as readers to truly feel any human compassion for her as the writing style leads us towards hatred for her. However I cannot help but wonder if the feeling towards her would be different if she had been a male character, and how gender stereotypes are bound up with this character. You cannot possibly be a woman and do the things she does, but a man would be seen as intelligent, striving for a cure, congratulated even, her actions go against our intrinsic ideas of what femininity means and signifies. We also see a stark contrast here between the intentions and the nature of Dr Caldwell and her research and Miss Justineau and her motherly instincts, our ideologies of what a women should be, bound up with the characters. The 2 women clash as each fights to defend what they believe in and what they hold dear to them. I am inclined to both hate and truly respect Dr Caldwell in equal measures at separate points in the story. Her intentions good as are Miss Justineau’s however certainly heading in a different direction. Dr Caldwells willingness to cross moral boundaries may well to associated with her failing to be choosen for the first wave of research and determined to prove her worth now, no matter what the cost. We the reader hope her research proves fruitful, as the story progresses further I find myself feeling more excited by it and really willing it on at even the last minute. The idea of morals and of moral boundaries is certainly a reoccurring theme in this story and questions what humans would do in this context or what they, or we would be capable of. This reflects societies own battle with what is right and what is wrong and where the line is drawn. We are emersed into This world with references of things we find familiar, towns and language, David Attenborough documentaries mentioned at one point, helping us to question our own moral standing and associate us with the decisions the characters have to make.
As the story progresses we see the true nature of the hungry pathogen and its effect on the globe and the environment all around the characters. We are taken on a journey as the characters battle not only against hungriest but against ‘Junkers’, essentially uninfected survivors, who for reasons which i cannot explain seem to target the survivors at the base, and group up to attack essentially other survivors, yet seem to be immune from attack from he hungries, their role is not quite believable and something there is missing in terms of their role in the story and their motivations. The story then progresses into a journey, driving and walking and moving forwards in a quest to reach beacon, the characters and relationships between them further enhanced and complicated on the journey. I enjoy the decision making parts, whereby the characters need to find solutions to what seem impossible tasks, Sgt Parks a life saving resource in these times. Mainly only really seeing Melanie as a ‘Little Monster’ until near the end whereby Sgt Parks endears himself to her, right before she takes a decision that goes against the grain of thought up until this point and Miss Justineau seemingly betraying her own race to be a leader and comforter of a new race. Once again the more the story progresses the more issues we see, how can Miss Justineau survive like this, how will this new race survive as their hunger will surely continue and will they satisfy it on each other?
The start of the story, at the base is enticing and seems to make progressive sense, however a lot of time is spent on it, once out of the base the story seems a little rushed, some issues are presented and we questions the validity of them. The relationships between the characters are believable and intriguing, however our allegiance switches in places as the story progresses, mainly for me due to Miss Justineau betraying the human race in favor of another less favorable option. The most disappointing part however of the whole story was the ending. It happened too quickly, there was not enough to it and seemed an easy way out for the writer. We are expecting some hope, some light at the end of the tunnel, in The Girl With All The Gifts, the light for humans is entirely switched off and the reader is just expected to embrace this, I cannot. Great potential, but sadly the ending leaves a lot to be desired. I was left with a feeling of undone, that something was yet to be said, never the story was over. A complex and intriguing novel, that never truly lives up to its potential.