Frivolous Waste of Time

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The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey

When M R Carey announced that he was writing a prequel to The Girl with All the Gifts, I was a bit sceptical. My tolerance for prequels is generally low, as they inevitably face a pressing issue of having to justify their own existence. There have been some great prequels, but I think more that have felt pointless. The Boy on the Bridge doesn’t quite succeed in justifying its own existence and it never feels anywhere near as strong as The Girl with All the Gifts, but particularly towards the end it comes together with certain moments of power held back by an oddly arch and impersonal tone.

Readers of The Girl with all the Gifts will remember the Rosalind Franklin, a tank/lab sent out by the remaining seat of UK government of Beacon after the arrival of the cordyceps plague of hungries/zombies. Melanie and her group took refuge in the abandoned tank and it played a vital role in the closing sections of the book and

The Boy on the Bridge is the story of the Rosalind Franklin and the crew of scientists and military who populate it. The Boy on the Bridge jumps into the heads of most of the crew of the tank, sent from Beacon to try to find a cure. Dr Samrina Khan is a scientist who discovers that she is pregnant shortly into their journey. She has a strange bond with Steven Greaves, a sort of autistic-savant young man who is considered by some to be the best hope for formulating a cure. Whilst in the highlands of Sctoland, Greaves discovers a group of child hungries who act like no other hungries they’ve seen before. This discovery kicks off the events which eventually culminate with an abandoned Rosalind Franklin, somewhere in London.

Although there’s a lot that is interesting in The Boy on the Bridge, for much of my time reading I found myself wondering why this story needed to be told. Revelations, such as the cognisant child hungries, will be of no surprise to those who have read The Girl with all the Gifts and it’s difficult to say what more this adds to our understanding of the setting. Carey uses the enclosed and claustrophobic space of the Rosalind Franklin well and I enjoyed the details of the strange life they’re all having to live together. It suffers somewhat from the horror movie problems of much of the plot being based entirely around people doing very stupid, illogical things. Obviously I would rather read characters driven by emotion than logic as I’m not a robot, but too often I just found myself exasperated, when I think I was meant to be horrified.

The lack of a clear main character hurts the book; there’s no one that can rival Melanie in terms of sympathy and engagement. There are some intense moments which should hit harder than they really do, because perhaps with the exception of Greaves I never really felt like I got a grip on any of these people. Greaves is a good character and I think the novel would have worked better if structured more clearly around him, as The Girl with all the Gifts was with Melanie.

The Boy on the Bridge is perfectly readable and I wasn’t bored, but I can’t imagine it making anywhere near the splash of The Girl with all the Gifts. That said, an intriguing epilogue sets the stage for a potentially great follow up. I’d be all for this, moving the series forward rather than returning to the past.


Image result for the boy on the bridge

The Girl with all the Gifts by M R Carey

I’m always rather thrilled when something rather geeky breaks into the mainstream. Sure, some people hate it, feeling their beloved hobby is under assault, but I like the genres I love being exposed to a wider audience. The Girl with all the Gifts is a zombie novel which has done very well as ‘literature’. As with all the best zombie stories, it’s not really about zombies, exploring the age old theme of what it means to be human in new and exciting ways.

Every morning, the young girl Melanie is strapped to a gurney and a muzzle is placed over her mouth. She is wheeled into a classroom where she is taught about the world that came before the world was overrun by the ‘hungries.’ Her favourite teacher is Ms Justineau but her least favourite person is Sergeant Parks, who seems to have an irrational hate of her. At the head of this camp not far north of London is Doctor Caldwell, who seeks above all else to solve the mystery of the fungus which has turned almost all of humanity into monsters.

I don’t want to give away much, but I will say that The Girl with all the Gifts does some really interesting things with the zombie concept. The opening parts of the book are probably the strongest simply by how strange and unique feeling they are. As things go on, they get a little bit closer to the standard post-apocalyptic zombie tropes but that’s not to say those parts aren’t entertaining. Even when it does begin to more closely resemble classic zombie stories it’s a very good zombie story. Also, it’s set around Hertfordshire which is where I’m from, so that’s an utterly un-objective point in its favour for me.

I haven’t encountered Carey before, but I’ll be looking out for him in the future. His writing is unflashy but effective, with the moments of tension and fear necessary to a good zombie story being truly painful. He does a really good job of jumping in and out of other characters heads, with the individual natures of each character coming through very nicely in their narration.

Melanie is a heartbreaking and lovable protagonist, with a genius IQ and a dawning awareness of what she is. Her hero worship/crush on Ms Justineau is really touching, with their relationship forming the emotional core of the story. Justineau herself could have been a bland paragon figure, but she ends up as a rounded character with her own flaws and quirks independent of her relationship with Melanie. Sergeant Parks could have been a generically antagonising figure, but he emerges fully formed and sympathetic, a pragmatic man who has built his rigid world view as a self defence mechanism. Yes, the main cast do fall into archetypes, but Carey uses these to undermine your expectations in interesting ways.

The Girl with all the Gifts doesn’t quite top World War Z as my favourite zombie book, but it comes a close second. Actually, it’s not a fair comparison, because despite being about zombies they’re not trying to achieve the same thing at all. The Girl with all the Gifts is a moving, if fairly lightweight book and one I’d recommend to anyone, genre fans or not.17235026

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