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BOOK REVIEW: The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey narrated by Finty Williams

| 15 December 2015 | 3 Replies

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey narrated by Finty Williams

Orbit/Hachette Audio
July 2014
Paperback, $19.99 / Audio, $26.23
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell


Melanie is unlike any ten-year-old you’ve ever met.

She spends each night in a cell, and of a morning she is strapped into a chair, hands and feet tied down, and wheeled into a classroom.

Melanie loves her lessons, especially on the days that Miss Justineau is in charge.

“Miss Justineau, what will happen when we’re grown up? Will the army still want to keep us, or will we go home to Beacon? And if we go there, will all the teachers come with us?”
All the teachers! Yeah, right. Like she cares if she ever sees Mr Slippery-Voice-Whitaker again. Or boring Dr Selkirk, who looks at the ground the whole time like she’s scared of even seeing the class. She means you, Miss Justineau, you, you, you, and she wants to say it, but at the same time she’s scared to, like saying the wish out loud will make it not happen.

Her life is made of routines: classes five days a week, and on the weekends they get to eat grubs and take a chemical shower. Their little cell block is all she knows: classroom at one end, and at the other end a door that leads to elsewhere, a door through which her classmates sometimes disappear, never to return.

But then something changes, and Melanie’s world gets flipped on its head.

Every once in a while in the block, there’s a day that doesn’t start right. A day when all the repeating patterns that Melanie uses as measuring sticks for her life fail to occur, one after another, and she feels like she’s bobbing around helplessly in the air – a Melanie-shaped balloon. The week after Miss Justineau told the class that their mothers were dead, there’s a day like that.


Now she’s on the run with a scientist who wants to cut her open:

“This,” Caldwell is saying, tapping the sealed lid of the fish tank, “is what’s inside the subjects’ heads. Inside their brains. When you walk into that classroom, you think you’re talking to children. But you’re not, Helen. You’re talking to the thing that killed the children.”
Justineau shakes her head. “I don’t believe that,” she says.

Sergeant Parks, the highest ranking soldier on their little base who sees Melanie as a monster and doesn’t want a bar of her:

The little monster found out his name somehow. She’s sneaking up inside his guard, waving his name like a white flag. Mean you no harm. It’s like if one of those paintings that looks like a real door in a real wall opened right in front of you, and a bogeyman leered out of it. Or like you turn over a stone and see the things crawling there, and one of them waves at you and says “Hi, Eddie!”

Private Kieran Gallagher, greener than green, who’s warming to Melanie despite the Sarge’s lectures against such thoughts:

He’s not sure what she’s like. A live girl, maybe, dressed up as a hungry. But not even that. An adult, dressed as a kid, dressed as a hungry. Weirdly, probing his feelings the way you stick your tongue into the place where a tooth fell out, Gallagher finds himself liking her. And one of the reasons why he likes her is because she’s so different from him. She’s as big as four-fifths of five-eighths of fuck all, but she takes no bullshit from anyone. She even talks back to the Sarge, which is like watching a mouse bark at a pitbull. Frigging amazing!

And of course, Miss Justineau:

“All I remember is the block, and you. You’re… ” Now it’s Melanie’s turn to hesitate. She doesn’t know the words for this. “You’re my bread,” she says at last. “When I’m hungry. I don’t mean that I want to eat you, Miss Justineau! I really don’t! I’d rather die than do that. I just mean… you fill me up the way the bread does to the man in the song. You make me feel like I don’t need anything else.”

And they have to make their way through a landscape of hungries and junkers, in order to return to the city from whence they came. Hopefully they can make it there alive…



When it comes to recommending this title, I am particularly torn.

Upon reading the physical copy of the book, approaching the original release in 2013, I was sure it was perfect and that there would be no way to improve upon it. It was an immediate favourite. It’s still a favourite.

However, upon listening to the audio book, I somehow fell even more in love with it.

Finty Williams, daughter of actors Judi Dench and Michael Williams, was the perfect choice for this reading. She manages to give a slightly different feel to each of the viewpoint characters, while not going over the top with the performance, all of which helps the reader to absorb and enjoy this story effortlessly.

The descriptions in this story are fantastic:

Some of the things in the bottles look like parts of people. Some of them are animals. Closest to her is a rat (she recognises it from a picture in a book) suspended head down in clear liquid. Thin grey strings like shoelaces – hundreds of them – have exploded from the rat’s body cavity and filled most of the interior space of the bottle, wrapped loosely around and around the little corpse as though the rat had decided to try to be and octopus and then hadn’t known how to stop.

And the writing as a whole is just incredibly, solidly good.

Carey writes a novel that you won’t want to put down, offers up characters who will stay with you long after reading, and shows them going through realistic character development. Each one of them feels like a real person, whether that’s in a good or a bad way depends on the character – which, let’s face it, is sort of how real people work, too.

This book has cemented the author and the narrator as favourites in their respective endeavours, and I cannot recommend this audio book highly enough.


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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