Elly McDonald


Review: zombies – The Girl with All the Gifts (2017) by M.R.Carey and World War Z: an oral history of the zombie war (2006) by Max Brooks

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The_Girl_With_All_The_Gifts_2On Facebook, 12 July 2017, I wrote:

I am reading a dystopian zombie page-turner called The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey, “Now a major movie”.

As a movie, it could be the third installment in 28 Days Later / 28 Weeks Later, both of which I love.

As a novel, its distinguishing feature is its concern with ontology: when is a human ‘human’? When does a ‘hungry’ cease to be human? When does a “frigging abortion” become humanized?

Strong (but skilful) metaphors for race and ethnic prejudices.

I was so certain as I read it that the author was a woman – and probably a woman who suffers Candida Albicans – but the notes at the back make clear he’s a male, a very, very experienced male commercial writer with high level experience writing graphic novels, TV, film et al, including the graphic novel Lucifer, which the Tom Ellis hipper-than-hip TV series is based on. He was commissioned to write The Girl With All The Gifts simultaneously as a novel and a film script, on the basis of a short story previously commissioned for an anthology. He’s pretty damn slick. I admire the way some of the characters were dispatched.
Also, there’s something rather bold he does at the end.

The_Girl_With_All_The_GiftsAlmost four years earlier to the day, on 10 July 2013, I wrote on Facebook:

Sometimes a written narrative is just so superior to film it blows me away.

Case in point: World War Z (Z being for zombie). Saw the movie yesterday, left the cinema with a suspicion it was one huge noisy public health service message promoting childhood vaccinations (take THAT, Jenny McCarthy!)

Picked up the source novel this evening. From page 1 it’s obvious it’s a much more intelligent, witty, subtle, and ambitious exploration of global breakdown. Sigh. I am so HAPPY immersed in Zombiedom

The movie’s story line bears very little resemblance to the book. Everything from the Belarus Airlines incident onwards is a movie invention, and I’m guessing a bit ad hoc: the script as originally shot climaxed with the Battle of Moscow, but when the studio did test viewings they realised it came off as same-old same-old, so they rewrote and reshot nearly a third of the movie. How could it be coherent?

I’m a few chapters into the book now and so far we’ve been exploring people smuggling, the refugee mentality, environmental depredation, economic exploitation and the changing balance of power between First World and developing nations. The international black market in human organs. The author is hitting all targets. No mention yet of any Gerald Lakes/Brad Pitt character.


I’m 50 pages from the end now and the Brad Pitt character has not made an appearance. No nonsense about vaccines. In fact the only points of similarity with the movie are that there is a zombie pandemic, bad things happen on a plane (alluded to tangentially) and in New Jersey (but very different from the bad things in the film version), and the Israelis quarantine their territory (but pre-1967 territory, excluding Jerusalem, and their quarantined state is not overrun).

So instead of being a story essentially about one bloke and his family we have “oral histories” from folk in all parts of the planet, including an Australian who commands the International Space Station and listens to Redgum’s I Was Only 19.

Oh, and the conceptualization of zombies is quite different. Amongst other things, they are not fast moving or physically agile, and they do not climb. Symptoms (‘reanimation”) do not occur within 10 seconds and can take minutes, hours, days or even weeks, dependent on the mode of infection e.g. whether a severe bite or a scratch, to a major vein or minor capillaries.

My friend Linda, a scientist by training, stayed hung-up on the movie resolution:
I found the vaccination part strange and inconsistent. Most of the people would have been vaccinated so have antibodies for a number of diseases. Yes, the main guy was sick when he came face to face with the teeth tapping freekin zombie, but simply inoculating people with small pox does not make them sick, therefore invisible to the teeth tappers. I didn’t get that. If someone can explain it, please do.

I can’t help her.

I cannot begin to explain the vaccine logic.

…oo oo … there IS a vaccine angle in the book, but it’s a placebo, cynically marketed in the early phase of the pandemic with dual objectives: to profit from panic (the manufacturer), and to provide reassurance – albeit misplaced – to the U.S. populace (the government).

How embarrassing. The zombie book has made me cry. And what am I crying at? The “oral history” provided by the (fictional) Hollywood director wizkid who, post apocalypse, turns his talents to filming morale boosting propaganda.


Author: Elly McDonald

Worked in the Australian rock music industry as a journalist and published widely as a poet before moving to London and spending the better part of a decade in advertising agencies. Returned to Australia and tried teaching, primarily teaching English to non-English speaking, newly-arrived refugees but also briefly as a high school classroom teacher. Has travelled Western Europe, North Africa, Russia, Northern India, East Asia, coastal USA, some Pacific Islands, and Australia.

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