SAY WHAT? As IF I'd do a book talk on a book I hadn't read. If I hadn't read it, I would just read it the night before. Okay fine, I can't read every single book in the library, but I can read all the books I do book talks about - are you saying you don't, Ms. Instructor, because maybe that's why I don't trust you. Hmph.
So my course right now is called Genre Fiction and Readers' Advisory, and so far it does seem like a Golden Age in Library Tech Courses for me. The whole discussion board is people going "omg, you loved that book? I loved that book! Have you read this book? I've totally read that book too!" And my first assignment is a book review.
I CAN DO BOOK REVIEWS. I'M AWESOME AT BOOK REVIEWS. THIS IS GOING TO BE SO FUN.
But you know what's coming, right? Yeah, cue the choke.
But wait. What if I'm NOT as awesome as I thought? I don't usually do them for marks. I usually just do them however I feel like. People TELL me they're awesome, but those people aren't college instructors, mostly. I put in my student profile that I have a book blog - what if that set up an unreasonable expectation of greatness? What if I do it wrong? What if I leave something out? Think, think, overthink, obsess....
Give head a shake. Pick awesome book, write awesome review.
Here it is:
I’ve been a fan of the horror genre since I was quite young, although at this point in my life I find that the best horror is at least as sad as it is funny, stemming from an archetypal fear of loss and mortality. Horror is also a very pure expression of Aristotle’s catharsis, as evoking the emotions of pity and fear is paramount in the genre.
Also, although I agree with Diana Tixier Herald that “each genre follows rules governing plot and characters - and abides by certain taboos - that are acknowledged by authors, required by publishers, and expected by readers”, and that some “readers of genre fiction do not like to be surprised, and often feel cheated by twists in the formula”, I personally find that the best examples of genre fiction do tend to put an original twist on the genre blueprint.
M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts succeeds admirably, in my opinion, in bringing a fresh perspective to a common horror trope (which is not revealed until partway through the book, so I won’t reveal it here), and in evoking pity and fear in abundance. The events in the book take place in a future version of England, after an event known as “The Breakdown” has caused widespread death and destruction. A small cast of characters are on an army base at the beginning, but events force them to flee into the dangers of the surrounding area in search of a new safe haven. Carey tells the story in the present tense, which lends an urgency and immediacy to the proceedings. He also reveals the full details of the threat gradually, building suspense throughout the opening chapters, which only tell us that a group of children are held on the army base and given the basics of a classical education by a succession of teachers.
After the first violent upheaval in the action, the cast of characters is culled to four principal players: Melanie, who is infected, and considered by most other people to be a monster, yet she exhibits the most integrity and the strongest moral code of all the characters; Helen Justineau, Melanie’s favourite of the teachers, who is determined to protect Melanie at all costs, because she cares for her but also to atone for past transgressions; Sergeant Eddie Parks, stoic and embittered by the state of the world, determined to complete his mission and baffled by Justineau’s feelings for Melanie; and Dr. Caroline Caldwell, whose missionary zeal and ferociously single-minded quest for medical truth and personal glory have erased all vestiges of compassion or empathy or humanity. Later in the story, Private Kieran Gallagher is introduced, with a quick, vivid sketch that fills in his background and personality to an amazing extent with the fewest possible words. Carey has a gift for flawed, nuanced characters.
The fact that the beginning of the book takes place largely in a classroom setting allows Carey to set in place a solid underpinning of great literature and Greek myth. The discussion of Pandora and Epimetheus creates resonant themes of human curiosity and hubris, while references to the Brothers Grimm foreshadow dark fairy tale elements with no happy endings. Words and language are important to Melanie throughout the story, as tools both to understand and control the world; this, along with Carey’s remarkably assured writing, strengthens the narrative thread and elevates it beyond much purely formulaic genre fiction. With Melanie and Miss Justineau, Carey perfectly renders the relationship between the worshipful student and the beloved teacher, while Dr. Caldwell’s solid, detailed scientific explanation of the pathogen that generated The Breakdown lends the story a chilling element of plausibility.
Although there are moments of pathos and connection, the story is devoid of easy sentimentalism, reflecting on some fairly unpalatable but uncomfortably discerning truths about human nature. There is no deus ex machina or Hollywood ending, although the conclusion does contain a skewed kind of optimism.
I would recommend The Girl With All the Gifts for anyone who likes intelligent, literate horror, and look forward to future books from this author.
Let's be honest, yours are the only opinions that really matter to me anyway.