The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey

May 11, 2017

For info – The Boy on The Bridge shares the same universe as The Girl with All the Gifts. If you haven’t already I would strongly advise reading that The Girl with All the Gifts first. It will undoubtedly enhance your enjoyment of The Boy on the Bridge.  It is also possible that if you haven’t read The Girl with All the Gifts that this review may contain minor spoilers.

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

A virulent contagion has decimated the world’s population. Exposure to the “hungry plague” immediately leads to infection and metamorphosis into a carrier who craves human flesh. Those remaining, who have avoided being infected so far, cling to their humanity with a ferocious tenacity. What little is left of the British authorities attempt to maintain order in a stronghold known as Beacon. In a last-ditch attempt to save everyone, they send out a small group made up of a military escort and scientific experts. The team’s goal? To learn as much as they can about the disease, and if possible discover a suitable cure.

Most of the plot to The Boy on the Bridge unfolds in the isolated mountains of Scotland. The desolate locale adds an evocative air to the story. For the most part, the characters are entirely separated from what is left of society and it makes things feel almost claustrophobic and stifling. The large transporter they use to travel across the land is their home, their work and their only defence. As tempers begin to fray and emotions run high, they discover they are not alone. There is something else out in the wilds, watching and waiting.

The thing that struck me right off the bat about this book was the characterisation. Without exception, every character is well realised. Their emotions and reactions are perfectly gauged. The Boy on the Bridge really excels in this regard. This is understated, delicately handled writing that creates the ideal group of individuals to dovetail with the plot. The main character, Stephen Greaves, is a compelling individual. There are chapters where Carey explores Stephen’s innermost thoughts and the reader gets the opportunity to try and understand what motivates this complex young man. In some ways, Stephen is unable to function adequately in our world, his difficulty with socialising being a prime example, but in other respects his intellect is razor sharp.  His uniquely analytical approach to everything makes his interactions extremely hard. Ignored or ridiculed by most of the crew, he is even nicknamed The Robot, he is far happier to lose himself in his work. Stephen views everything as a problem which needs to be solved.

The only person able to effectively communicate with Stephen is the other main character, Dr Samrina ‘Rina’ Khan. There is a nice contrast between Stephen and Rina. Her motivations, dreams and aspirations are more overtly emotional than Stephen’s. Rina discovers she is pregnant shortly after the beginning of the mission and there is a growing sadness to her character that feels palpable. Rather than celebrating her impending parenthood, she faces this profound change is her life with sense of impending doom. The scenes between Stephen and Rina are particularly poignant. Stephen is incapable of expressing his feelings and can only focus on his investigations to try and help his friend. All Rina wants is some sympathy, but that is not something that Stephen can provide.

There is another strand to the narrative that follows Colonel Isaac Carlisle and Dr Alan Fournier, the military and scientific heads of the mission respectively. Both are troubled by their roles and the heavy burdens that have been placed upon them. The relationship between these two men gives Carey the opportunity to pick apart the wider political significance of what is at stake. Society is splintering into various factions and whichever man succeeds in leading the mission will play an important role in the future.

It would be easy to view the actions of the characters in a bubble, totally removed from what is left of the world. That is not the case however, the choices that each of these characters make – Stephen, Rina, Carlisle, Fournier and even the other scientists and soldiers – all have far reaching implications.

I’ve been thinking about it and I’m not sure I have the adequate vocabulary that will allow me to properly convey how much I enjoyed this novel. I’ve mentioned many times in the past that I am a huge fan of apocalyptic fiction, trust me I’ve read lots of it, and The Boy on The Bridge is right up there with the very best. Insightful and thought provoking Carey’s latest is a modern fable that perfectly hits the same emotional highpoints as its predecessor. At its heart this is a novel about evolution, transformation, sacrifice and change. I’m always in awe of any writer who can capture and dissect such complex thoughts, convey such heartfelt emotions and make it appear so completely effortless.

The novel ends on a heartbreakingly sad, but hopeful note. A short epilogue offers a suggestion of yet more hope. I would genuinely love to see a continuation of this story in some form in the future.

As an aside, a quick bit of research on Spotify confirms that the subtle ambient soundtrack of The Girl with All the Gifts by Cristobal Tapia De Veer fits seamlessly with the narrative in The Boy on the Bridge. If you enjoy some music while you read, I would heartily recommend this pairing. I can also only hope is that the same creative team by the movie adaption of the first book do the same thing with this new story. The Boy on the Bridge is the same beautifully bittersweet fiction and the perfect companion to The Girl with All the Gifts. Please transfer this to the big screen as soon as is humanly possible. I need to be able to watch both, one after the other, again and again.

I’ll finish off by putting it as simply as I can. If you are a fan of genre fiction, you need to read this book. The Boy on the Bridge is published by Orbit and is available now. Highly recommended.

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