08 August 2014

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

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A debut that Neil Gaiman calls “Glorious. …So sharp, so focused and so human.” The Girl in the Road describes a future that is culturally lush and emotionally wrenching.
In a world where global power has shifted east and revolution is brewing, two women embark on vastly different journeys – each harrowing and urgent and wholly unexpected.

When Meena finds snakebites on her chest, her worst fears are realized: someone is after her and she must flee India.  As she plots her exit, she learns of the Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge spanning the Arabian Sea that has become a refuge for itinerant vagabonds and loners on the run.  This is her salvation.  Slipping out in the cover of night, with a knapsack full of supplies including a pozit GPS system, a scroll reader, and a sealable waterproof pod, she sets off for Ethiopia, the place of her birth.

Meanwhile, Mariama, a young girl in Africa, is forced to flee her home.  She joins up with a caravan of misfits heading across the Sahara. She is taken in by Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. They are trying to reach Addis Abba, Ethiopia, a metropolis swirling with radical politics and rich culture.  But Mariama will find a city far different than she ever expected – romantic, turbulent, and dangerous.

As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama’s fates are linked in ways that are mysterious and shocking to the core.

Written with stunning clarity, deep emotion, and a futuristic flair, The Girl in the Road is an artistic feat of the first order: vividly imagined, artfully told, and profoundly moving.

I must admit, before starting to read Monica Byrne’s debut novel, The Girl in the Road, I fully expected to really, really enjoy it. (I know, not exactly a good idea.) By the end though, the story just didn’t sit well with me and I felt a bit let down – and I think my high expectations (entirely based upon the quick dust-jacket summary) are the cause.

Now, to be fair, I did enjoy certain aspects of The Girl in the Road. It is a beautifully written novel and Byrne captivated me with her imaginative and poetic prose. Her well-crafted narrative swiftly carried me along the journeys of the two distinct narrators, each entirely unreliable in her own way. Intrigued, I kept trying to figure out how the two journeys would intersect, but could never quite guess what would happen next. (Even reading the last page didn’t help me with this particular novel.) And the futuristic society mixed with various African and Indian cultures equally intrigued me, as I rarely pick up books with those qualities.

Yet, beyond these big-picture aspects and within the gritty details of the story itself, I discovered The Girl in the Road to be so much more strange and twisted and dark than I could have anticipated. In the end, though interesting and absorbing, it just wasn’t exactly the book for me. However, for the right reader, I think it could be a perfectly stellar read and certainly worth a try.

All the same, I thank Blogging for Books for my copy of The Girl in the Road and the opportunity to provide an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, and all the opinions I have expressed are my own.

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