The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

18297954Stunningly 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.

REVIEW: Difficult to rate

In terms of her vision of the future, Monica Byrne demonstrates a global understanding of the elements that will, no doubt, reshape the world we live in. She is clearly well travelled and eager to show that. The future she paints is truly fascinating – a complex puzzle of economic, political, social, environmental pieces that form a carefully detailed, vivid picture. However, part of this picture are often words, concepts, social practices that sound cool, but they’re not explained or translated, so we’re only left with pieces of shiny surface.

As far as the plot goes, it seems ambitious to begin with, but gradually degenerates into something implausible, micro-leveled, and vaguely soap-opera-ish.Which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, except that we’re not given a single character to root for and indeed care about. This is a story of abuse, specifically abuse against women, but not even the victims make sympathetic characters. The two narrators, both unreliable, inspire quite an array of unpleasant emotions and on occasion a pronounced sense of nausea. As regards the men, the prevalent perspective seems skewed toward generalization to such an extent that they come across as caricatures.

Toward the end of the book I found myself questioning the author’s comprehension of abuse. Her take rather seems to amount to a lot of bombastic yet empty rhetoric.

To sum up, The Girl in the Road makes a fascinating read for those inclined toward conceptualizing the future based on what we know, intuit, and witness today. The author’s vision is bright, discerning, and quite complete. But the people and events inserted into that vision are less so.

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