January 22, 2014 § 3 Comments
Ten year-old Melanie wakes fresh every day for her lessons. Sergeant comes to strap her in her wheelchair, making sure to restrain her hands and feet, and she’s taken to the classroom to begin the day’s teachings. Melanie is exceptionally bright, and she adores the days when Miss Justineau takes the class. Because she has never exited the compound in which she lives, Melanie’s exposure to the outside world is limited to the knowledge her teachers can give her. And because she has never known any different, she is unable to recognise that all of the adults around her are deathly afraid of what happens if she ever gets free.
Look, I have to tell you something. A lot of other reviews of this book are withholding this piece of information for fear of posting a dreaded spoiler, but I can tell you with one hundred per cent certainty that knowing this will not change your experience of this book. It’s got too many twists and turns for this small detail to be a spoiler. Right, so: Melanie is a zombie.
Put aside what you think you know about zombie novels. Forget 28 Days Later, and the monkey-borne virus. Put World War Z out of your mind, because it’s too late for the W.H.O to do anything about this outbreak. And don’t even think about assembling your unwanted record collection, a la Shaun of the Dead, because there’s absolutely no point in trying to combat these Walking Dead.
In The Girl with All the Gifts, society as we know it is long dead. What remains is the military run compound in which Melanie and her classmates are housed, and, somewhere out there, the survivalist citadel of Beacon. The rest of the world has been decimated by the “hungries” – the first wave of the zombie epidemic. Like the Boneys of Warm Bodies, the hungries resemble the zombies that we know and fear. So what, then, is Melanie, and why is the military scared of her?
In addition to being an exceptional zombie novel, The Girl with All the Gifts is also a compelling character study. Through the eyes of five very different characters, Carey dissects the new world that has emerged from the husk of humanity’s society, and man, does he do it well.
The five point-of-view characters represent a fascinating cross-section of the post-apocalyptic community: Miss Justineau, kind-hearted and fiercely protective teacher; the adamantly militaristic Sergeant; naïve and innocent Private Gallagher; chilling Dr Caldwell, and of course, Melanie. This eclectic collection of perspectives allows Carey to examine the state of the world from different angles, and in considerable depth.
Carey makes masterful use of the five POV characters to build tension and suspense. I found that he continually tripped up my expectations of a multiple perspective narrative, which made the book all the more surprising. ASOIAF has trained me to expect that when something interesting happens to a character, perspective will smash-cut to one of twenty-something other people. Not so with The Girl with All the Gifts: when something interesting happens, Carey keeps focus on the situation itself, even if he switches character perspective. This makes the book feel quite immediate, and a little bit cinematic.
Dr Caldwell, the researcher on base, is a truly chilling character. She is single-mindedly devoted to her life’s research, and genuinely does not seem to care about anything else. She systematically abducted Melanie’s classmates, one by one, so that she may dissect them and glean an understanding of the true nature of the end of the world. She has no issue with restricting life-saving resources from her fellow humans if it means that she can have peace and quiet to conduct her work, and holds onto her life with the sole intent of finding an answer. By the end of the book, it is apparent that her intent is pure selfishness in the guise of utilitarianism – an eerily familiar concept.
The thing is, Caldwell’s efforts amount to nothing anyway. Even after she dedicates her life to finding the answer, the answer has no effect on the outcome of the apocalypse. The fact that she knows this, and continues to single-mindedly seek answers at the expense of her peers, is nothing short of scary.
Where Caldwell is repulsive and alienating, Miss Justineau is wholly relatable. She has honour, and loves hugely, but she also breaks down in the face of overwhelming horror. She rages against the injustice of restraining children, but also recognises the vulnerability of her fellow travellers. At the novel’s conclusion, she accepts the state of the world that has shifted from underneath her. Her comparison to Caldwell makes the latter seem all the more monstrous. The tension between them is palpable!
There are parts of this book that are strikingly gory, but I kind of loved that about it. The violence and gore brings into focus the stark horror of a reality in which unknown monsters rule. That being said, I’m told that my tastes do run toward the bleak…
In an age of interminable trilogies and cliffhanger endings, The Girl with All The Gifts is a true standalone novel. Sure, the frightening world could be explored more in another book, but I was satisfied with the resolved narrative in the end. It does draw the inevitable comparison to Cronin’s The Passage. If I’m being honest, I’ll tell you that I– I never actually finished The Passage. I’ve tried three times, but I always find that it just drags. I lose motivation to complete the book, can’t be bothered investing in new characters and trying to care about their situations. With a stack of unread books nearly as tall as I am, I’m unlikely to go back to The Passage anytime soon. Unlike The Passage, I could not put The Girl with All the Gifts down. In fact, I am sporting a spectacular bruise on my thigh because I was walking around reading, and ran straight into the corner of my bed.
With the possible exception of Will McIntosh’s Soft Apocalypse, Carey’s apocalypse scenario is one of the best I’ve ever read. He takes our traditional understanding of the zombie myth, turns it upside down, cuts it all up and reassembles it. It is stunningly cool, highly original and quite frightening. In The Girl with All the Gifts, Carey shows us that the end of the world as we know it does not mean that it is the end of the world as a whole – and maybe we should just accept it.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS will be available at PULP FICTION BOOKSELLERS in Brisbane City this week. Call them on (07) 3236 2750 to reserve a copy, or hit them up on Facebook here.
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November 10, 2013 § 4 Comments
Q is an odd kindergarten teacher. She is constantly daydreaming, Scrubs-style, about the best strategy to overcome a hypothetical zombie apocalypse.
When vegan activist Rabbit comes to the kindergarten where Q works, she’s too enamoured with his rugged good looks and hippy-chic to be paying attention to the lyrics of his songs. She’s snapped out of her reverie when she realises that the children are crying – Rabbit’s rendition of “New MacDonald” had detailed the ins and outs of the meat industry, and it hasn’t gone done well with this particular demographic…
Nevertheless, Q is in love. Through a stealthy combination of Facebook stalking and posing as a potential vegan convert, she manages to track down an activist group that Rabbit attends. When the group invites her to a bush retreat, Q envisions romantic encounters with Rabbit in picturesque scenery. So naturally, she accepts.
Being more than a little obsessed with preparedness for that hypothetical apocalypse, Q habitually brings to the retreat everything that she could possibly need in the extremely unlikely event that Z attacks. It’s not because she thinks it will, it’s just what she always does. Like I said, she’s an odd kindy teacher. The first day of the retreat, Q finds herself clashing with Pious Kate, the leader of the group and Rabbit’s ex, over what is and is not permitted on a soul-searching expedition. Q’s extensive collection of weaponry, for example, is apparently not.
Much like the hapless teens of Tomorrow When the War Began were blissfully ignorant to invading forces when they were camping in the bush, Q and the vegans see only hints that something has gone dreadfully wrong in their hometown of Sydney.
Before long, Q realises that the apocalypse strategies she’s always assembled as a hobby will actually need to be implemented, if she is to save the vegans and, more importantly, have an opportunity to woo Rabbit.
THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is different to every other zombie book I’ve read. Although one might classify it as a zom-rom-com, it’s got very little in common with the infamous Shaun of the Dead. For one thing, while Shaun of the Dead is indisputably British, SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE is very Australian. If you’re not familiar with the Australian sense of humour, let me explain: Australian comedy is a kind of hybrid of American confidence, British self-deprecation and complete eccentricity. Australian humour tends to be satirical, pointed and quite often bittersweet, like Kath and Kim or Chris Lilley’s comedies. THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE exhibits all of these characteristics, and somehow manages to be quite frightening at the same time.
As a protagonist, Q is really fun to read. Being obsessed with the zombie apocalypse, she’s a bit of an oddball, but she’s also quite sweet. She respects her kindy kids as equals, so she is able to develop strong relationships with them. Some of my favourite passages from the book are the hilarious conversations between Q and five year old Hannah, who Q calls her best friend. I am a twenty-three year old Australian girl who used to be a pre-service teacher. I am willing to admit, albeit sheepishly, that I think about apocalyptic events more than your average person, so naturally, I identified strongly with Q. That said, author JT Clay has portrayed Q in such a way that I felt 100% invested in her bizarre situation, but I was also distanced enough from it that I was able to laugh at it.
THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE could be seen as quite an unforgiving depiction of vegans. However, I don’t think it’s a criticism of the vegan lifestyle, but rather of the “piety” of those few who see themselves as “greener than thou.” Pious Kate, as Q aptly names her, is a textbook example of a vegan who uses her belief system to belittle others. Having worked for an actively vegan company, I can say with complete confidence that a vegan who dictates their values to others is an exception and not the rule. That said, when I recommended this book to a friend who is vegetarian, I will admit that I thought twice about whether it might be considered offensive. I think, though, that it would only be the hyper-sensitive who would take these affectionate jibes to heart. Anyway, my vegan readers will be glad to know that they come out on top in the end…
I do prefer to read print books, but books like this are the reason it’s worthwhile owning an e-reader. THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is author JT Clay’s first novel, and if it weren’t for the e-release, it might be years before this gem hit the shelves in print. I’m also particularly excited to be sharing my review of this book with you guys, and with the Books Rock My World Facebook community, because you can grab a copy of it pretty much instantly!
Buy THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE for your e-reader for $5.99 right here. If you think it sounds even halfway decent, I encourage you to give it a try. I had to consciously stop reading it on the bus because I could not refrain from laughing out loud. Zombies + romance + vegans + kindy kids = a really funny, really sweet book, and you should read it right now.
I can’t wait to hear what you think of THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. Leave me a comment here on the blog, on The Novelettes Facebook page, or on Books Rock My World, to let me know how you enjoyed it!
October 22, 2013 § 7 Comments
1. House of Leaves – Mark Z Danielewski
House of Leaves is the tale of a family whose house is expanding on the inside, but not on the outside. What makes this book so disturbing is not the subject matter exactly, but the convoluted way that the story is told. Danielewski paints a portrait of unravelling sanity, but it’s not like anything you’ve ever experienced before. House of Leaves is a book that must be read in print, as there is simply no way to transcribe its format to an e-reader or tablet. It will have you frantically flipping pages, turning the book upside-down and scribbling notes. You’ll sit down to read a few pages one morning, and the first time you look up from the book, it’ll be midnight. In short, House of Leaves will consume you.
2. The Shining and Doctor Sleep – Stephen King
Alright, so it’s a bit of a cop-out to include The Shining in a list of scariest books. The Shining was published in 1977, so surely, it’s a given that it’s one of the top picks for Halloween?
Be that as it may, The Shining deserves special mention this year. Thirty-six years after its publication, Stephen King has released a sequel to his infamous novel – Doctor Sleep. Centring on the son of the protagonist of The Shining, Doctor Sleep is already gathering critical acclaim. I am yet to read it, but I think it will be my go-to on Halloween night!
3. The Descent – Jeff Long
I’m only halfway through The Descent, but I’m calling this one early – this book is scary as hell. Literally. And let me tell you, the 2005 film is but a mere teaser of the horrors that await you in Jeff Long’s original novel. When some unsuspecting hikers are trapped in a cave in remote Tibet, they inadvertently make the biggest discovery in known history. Underneath the surface of the earth is a sub-planet, populated with a species known as “hadals”. The world is rocked by the scientific revelation that should never have been – Hell is a real place, and it is beneath our feet. More detailed review to come, but suffice it to say, since I started this book, I haven’t been sleeping so well…
4. The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
Although it’s not your traditional spooky Halloween novel, The Silence of the Lambs remains the most frightening novel that I have ever read. I don’t think that there is anything that scares me more than the sheer inescapability of Hannibal Lecter’s will. If he wants something from you, he will find a way to obtain it, and there is very little chance that you will be able to outsmart him in the process. He’s one of the most terrifying characters you will ever encounter. The fact that Hannibal is human (rather than supernatural) makes him all the more monstrous – especially given that he is an amalgamation of real-life serial killers. Side note: The Silence of the Lambs is the exception to the rule that the book is better than the film. In my opinion, the two are equally excellent.
5. World War Z – Max Brooks
Are you concerned about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse? No? Read World War Z and I guarantee, you will be. This is the story of the breakdown of global society, told through the eyes of the UN Postwar Commision in the form of documents from all over the world. Beginning with “patient zero” in rural China, World War Z tracks the transmission of the virus that rapidly decimates the world’s population. Author and zombie aficionado Max Brooks takes the story of the apocalyptic epidemic and traces the environmental, social and political effect it has on the world. World War Z scared me half to death because it’s all so official. It’s easy to remember that other zombie stories are fiction because they’re told to us in a more familiar format. However, when you read governmental reports and WHO press releases detailing the way the international community is going to cope with the end of the world, the actuality of it begins to affect you.
Now, who’s ready to start planning their zombie apocalypse strategies?
What will you be reading this Halloween? Are you a fan of horror, and do you have any recommendations for the rest of us who only dabble?