Author: Monica Byrne
Released: September 2015
Length: 319 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository
Stunningly original and wildly inventive, The Girl in the Road melds the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern for a dazzling debut.Meena, a young woman living in a futuristic Mumbai, wakes up with five snake bites on her chest. She doesn't know how or why, but she must flee India and return to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. Having long heard about The Trail -- an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea -- she embarks on foot on this forbidden bridge, with its own subculture and rules. What awaits her in Ethiopia is unclear; she's hoping the journey will illuminate it for her.Mariama, a girl from a different time, is on a quest of her own. After witnessing her mother's rape, she joins up with a caravan of strangers heading across Saharan Africa. She meets Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. Yemaya tells Mariama of Ethiopia, where revolution is brewing and life will be better. Mariama hopes against hope that it offers much more than Yemaya ever promised.As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama's fates will entwine in ways that are profoundly moving and shocking to the core. Vividly imagined and artfully told, written with stunning clarity and deep emotion, The Girl in the Road is a true tour de force.
The Girl in the Road follows bravely in the footsteps of some of the most famous science fiction authors. It is a very ambitious debut project, but Monica Byrne is more than up to the task. In it, she offers an elaborate vision of our future, focusing mostly on new energy sources. Byrne takes her time in explaining the new sources of energy and the advancements in existing ones. Her imagination is largely based on possibilities and probabilities, which gives her world an almost tangible quality. In addition, with a story set partly in India and partly in Africa, she gives us a clear view of different cultures with a very modern twist.
Bryne’s writing style is very thick, lush and intense. She sometimes jumps randomly from memory to memory, event to event, which gives her narrative a dreamlike quality, an amount of uncertainty in how much of it is real and how much is happening inside Meena’s head. And Meena’s head, let me tell you, is a wondrous place, filled with seemingly odd conclusions and paranoid jumps.
The story is full of symbolism, with meaning hidden behind meaning in several layers. Snake is the most prominent symbol, often mentioned throughout the book, reminding us constantly of ouroboros, the mythological symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail. It symbolizes renewal, the endless cycle, things that end only to begin again. It’s easy to see why it is central in Meena’s story.
“The snake begins and ends all things, of course.”
The Girl in the Road is practically bursting with diversity of all types. Meena is Ethiopian and bisexual and her former lover – her one great love – transitioned from man to woman while they were together. When you add to that cultural diversity, The Girl in the Road becomes a novel one can read, enjoy, but also learn from. Byrne approaches all these things matter-of-factly, as one should, and the result is a book that is freeing and feministic, even though it might make a more conservative reader run for the hills.
Neil Gaiman wrote that it is transfixing to watch Monica Byrne become a major player in science fiction, and as usual, Neil Gaiman was right. With such a strong debut behind her, who knows what she has in store for us next.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.