The Boy On The Bridge. Book Review

The Boy On The Bridge by M R Carey
Orbit, h/b, 400pp, £16.99
Reviewed by Rebekah Lunt

The Boy On The Bridge (TBOTB) is a story set in the same universe as M. R. Carey’s previous book The Girl With All The Gifts (TGWATG). Although it is not a direct sequel it follows the development of the new world situation ten years after the ‘Breakdown’ and relates to the events of TGWATG. It is not necessary to have read that to be able to enjoy TBOTB, but I would highly recommend it as it will give you a more satisfying read overall. The main benefit is that you find out what happened to the occupants of the ‘Rosalind Franklin’ as seen in TGWATG.

I read and reviewed TGWATG when it first came out (review here) and enjoyed it immensely. I’m a great fan of Carey across all his writing formats and this new book didn’t disappoint!

In the world of this story, humanity has been decimated by the advent of a dangerous fungus that takes over the body of any host who is exposed to it, essentially creating a zombie in its wake. Whether the human remains in any way is not clear or determined at this point in the story, and this forms part of the musings of some of the characters.

Although this is really a riff on the usual zombie horror story, I felt this was a particular strength of the book as it opens up a wide debate on what really constitutes humanity, what defines us as having worth and where the dividing line is when defining that worth.

We join a team of scientists and military personnel several months into a journey through the UK from the last remaining outpost of survivors. Their objective is to retrieve the results of experiment caches across the UK that were placed by a previous expedition that has been presumed lost. It is hoped that these caches may provide important data to create a cure or vaccine against the fungus and save humanity. Included in the personnel of the team is a teenager, Stephen Greaves, who is supposed to be a prodigy – he invented a scent blocker that enables the humans to pass unnoticed by the ‘greys’ as they’re called – also it is intimated that he has autism and is under the care of his guardian Samrina Khan, one of the scientists. It is this character who is the eponymous ‘boy on the bridge’, and although I was at first wary of the well-worn trope of high-functioning autistic savant with convenient quirks of character, Carey writes this character well. His centrality to the plot progression does not feel contrived and actually deepens the reader’s emotional response to the dilemma he faces.

As usual with Carey’s stories, all the characters are very well written with each person living off the page in a way that enables a very immersive read. Although there are clearly protagonists, all of the characters are interesting and complex in their own rights and I was invested in each of their story lines – whether I loved, hated or was just curious about them.

The usual question or subtext with zombie-based horror is “who is truly the monster”, whereas Carey rather cleverly turns this on its head to ask “who is truly the human?” You may think this is an arbitrary difference, however I feel it’s an important distinction and one that allows for the devastating hopefulness of the climax and conclusion. I loved this book just as much as it’s predecessor, and was sad to finish it. I think it would be difficult to follow this one but I’d love to explore this world more.