I’ve been contemplating a few things to write about today in an effort to get into something of a regular blogging habit again and I finally settled on a book review. Given it’s been quite a long time between book-related entries I had a lot to choose from. In the end I went for the one I just finished which was a book club pick.
It was M.R. Carey’s The Boy on the Bridge – a companion novel to his previous The Girl with all the Gifts which I wrote about here. The most confusing thing about this, otherwise quite spectacular novel, is where the time fits in with the previous novel. It was touted as a prequel set twenty years before the first, but I – and the rest of my highly intelligent book club members – didn’t think this worked. We agreed it was more like a concurrent novel which perhaps starts a bit before the first, and then ends with the epilogue after the end of the first.
All of that will mean nothing if you’ve not read the first book, but it certainly made for some clever detective work for me when reading it and a good discussion at book club trying to piece it all together.
But I should go back and tell you a bit more about the actual story. In short this is a zombie story (as in Walking Dead type zombies rather than the dead coming back to life), but it’s also so much more. The novel follows the lives of a group of soldiers and scientists as they set out across the UK in a tank-come-lab-come-camper-van looking to discover a treatment for the infection that is turning ordinary people into human-munching undead. The characters and they way the interact with one another is what makes the story so incredibly compelling. Samrima, the compassionate scientist hiding her unfortunately timed pregnancy from the rest of the team (until, of course, she can’t), Stephen, the possibly austistic but brilliantly clever teenager ill-at-ease being in such close quarters and misunderstood by all but Samrina, McQueen, the ill-discplined soldier consistently taking matters into his own hand usually to the detriment of the team and the two always-at-loggerheads co-leaders, Fournier a second-rate biologist who spends as much time as possible hiding from the rest of the crew and the level-headed but with a dangerous past Colonel Carlisle. Along with a cast of other, lesser explored characters, they stumble through their weeks and months together, with rising tensions and fading hopes.
As with Carey’s first novel in the series, he saves the best for last – this man sure can write an ending. Everything you assume is wrong, and the conclusion leaves you breathless and in a quiet reverie over what you just read.
M.R Carey’s writing is straight-forward, precise and gripping. His ability to draw in the reader and embed a consistent sense of impending doom and inevitability to the whole story and then turn that on its head at the last minute makes for a novel that is a joy to read, one that should be devoured not savored. This is binge reading at its best. Don’t let the zombie-trope put you off, this is no gore-fest and one that I enjoyed just as much as the first (even if some aspects of the time-line didn’t quite work).