Monday, 30 March 2015

VSH Book Club... The Girl With All The Gifts Review

It's quite hard to write a book review when you don't really know how you feel about the book! When I finished The Girl with all the Gifts Chris asked what I thought, to which I answered "I'm not sure". I think what this means is that I didn't love the book, but I did like it. I am torn as to whether this indifference is because of the quality of the book, or its genre. 

As I said in my original post, I hardly knew a thing about this book when I picked it as the first book to review. This is quite unusual for me as I generally know the vague concept of a book I am about to read or at least what section of a bookstore it would be found in! It isn't a bad thing though, as if I had known in advance that this was essentially a zombie story (despite never using the Z word) with a hint of science fiction I probably would have steered clear. I have since learnt that the book is being made into a film starring Glenn Close and Gemma Arteton and that, judging from twitter especially, some people really bloody love it! So here's what I thought... look away now if you don't want to read any spoilers!

The book is well written, I don't think you can argue with that. It has a great opening which gets you interested straight away, and I enjoyed the fact that there wasn't a large build up to finding out what was going on in the outside world. The first narrator of the book (told in the third person which I think works well) is Melanie, a 10 year old 'Hungry' who lives in a secure facility which we discover houses some of the few people remaining in England after what is referred to as the Breakdown. I have read a couple of dystopian stories like the Hunger Games and the Divergent series but this was a level darker, probably because it was not written for a teenage audience.  The Breakdown is described here and there throughout the book, and much of it from the point of view of Dr Caldwell who largely speaks in an overly technical and scientific rhetoric. In summary, a virus wipes out much of the population by turning them into Hungries who live in a zombie like state until they smell or hear human movement, which then inevitably leads to attack. The victims of these attacks then become Hungries themselves and so the cycle continues. 

Melanie, and about 20 other children living in the facility with her, are different however, and it is only revealed towards the end of the story in what way they are different, and why. We lean early on that Melanie is very intelligent, and has conscious thought so we know she isn't an ordinary Hungry. We are also told about her fondness of a certain teacher, Miss Justineau, who initially seems to be the only staff member of the facility who has a moral conscience. Melanie and her counterparts are kept locked up in cells overseen by Sergeant Parks, except for when they attend school-like lessons, or for weekly trips to the chemical showers and grub factory. Trust me, that bit is gross. 

The characters are well developed and the story only revolves around 4 or 5 of them so you get to know them pretty well, but ultimately I didn't feel that I could identify with any of them nor was I emotionally attached to them at all, even Melanie. To me this is one of the main downfalls of the book, as I am sure the author did not intend for a reader to be so ambivelent to their characters, especially the protagonist. Maybe this was because the story was so removed from reality, or maybe I am just heartless!  Another downside of the book was how graphically it described Dr Caldwell's work in her lab, which involved operating on live specimens. I don't have a stomach for this kind of thing at the best of times, but the detailed description of amputating a human head was to me unnecessary and indulgent. 

I found the ending to be pretty dark and depressing, but it wasn't something that I predicted which is a good thing. For one character in particular things concluded in an interesting way, and the book definitely leaves you with a lot to think about in terms of this person and their future, or lack thereof.  I did find it unconvincing how Melanie asserts authority over the other Hungry children who feature towards the end of the book, and I felt that the author having her save Miss Justineau in the way she did a little too convenient and that maybe the ending was rushed. 

What I did like about the book was that it was more than a story of the Breakdown, or the zombies left in its wake, it was about how the people left to deal with all of this developed relationships in forced circumstances, the most effective relationship being the one between Melanie and her favourite teacher. I also enjoyed the pace of the book, and its variety of narrators. It was also pretty clever to be honest, the guy who came up with this original concept knows their science! The book was very descriptive and I found that as I was reading I had a very clear (and weird) picture in my head of what the landscape looked like, so I will definitely see the film when it is out to see if the two match up. 

Ultimately I think that The Girl with all the Gifts is probably one of the best books of its genre, it's just a shame that that genre doesn't do it for me! 

What did you think? I would love to hear your thoughts if you have read it too! 

Also, come back tomorrow to see what April's book of the month will be! x

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