The world begins anew, starting now.
In an unspecified future, two women are drawn together across two continents. In a world that has moved away from the former powers of Europe and America, and is now centred on Africa and Asian, the two primary continents are joined by a vast energy bridge. As one young woman flees her past in Asia by going on a foolhardy trek across the dangerous bridge, a young girl is saved by a group of missionaries and traders and carried off on a trip across Africa. Told in first person by both women, The Girl in the Road combines cutting edge science fiction with a mind-bending plot to tell the story of two unimitable women and the ties that bind them together...
I picked up The Girl in the Road as a Netgalley ARC, one that I was delighted to receive. I had been hearing good things about the book, described in numerous blogs as a mind-bending science fiction novel, dealing with identity, family, gender and the fallout of our own modern world. Set in a world where climate change has forever shifted the axis of power from the familiar Europo-American centre to an Africano-Asian combination, The Girl in the World describes what could be a logical future from our perspective. Monica Byrne does a great job developping her world, throwing in enough new technology to satisfy any sci-fi fan, while spending a lot more time on the social and political developments. This is a world in turmoil, chaos that both of our main characters are involved in.
The two main characters seem to be worlds apart in more than one sense as the novel begins. Meena is a grown woman, struggling with her past mistakes and her present fears, who decides after she is attacked in her home to go on a trek across the Arabian Sea on a vast energy bridge. Mariama, meanwhile, is a young girl whose prostitute mother told her to run and who finds herself crossing the Sahara with a disparate group of missionaries, traders and mercenaries. As the story progresses it seems clear that the two women are linked, though exactly what the link is will probably surprise most every reader.
While the story is sometimes hard to follow due to diversions into hallucinatory visions, and can become bogged down in a series of encounters that Meena has on the bridge, the writing is such that the story is constantly propelled along, leaving the reader happily following the trail of breadcrumbs that Byrne has laid out. Byrne's imagination is at full throttle throughout and she makes great use of the technology she creates. Sexuality plays a huge role, either in flashback or more immediately during the journey, and Byrne does not shy away from confronting the complexity of sexual relations and desire. While both main characters are definitely female, Byrne creates a society where changed genders, transgenders and anything in between are frequent and accepted.
Social and political chaos plays a large role in the book, especially in the latter parts of the novel when Mariama reaches her destination. As she grows into a young woman, she becomes involved with riot and revolution, which eventually brings her into contact with the man who will change her life and cement her connection with Meena. It is trying to make sense of this connection that really propels the novel forward and the final revelation is well worth the wait. Though some of the connections still seem mysterious and uncertain by the time the book ends, it is hard to be disappointed considering the great ride the novel takes the reader on.
One of the most mind-bending, imaginative and unusual novels I have read so far this year, The Girl in the Road is science fiction done right, combining new technology with social developments, armed with an intriguing plot and two strong female characters. As the book progresses, mysteries are revealed and yet Byrne never loses sight of the story she is telling and the world she has created. An engrossing read that kept me turning the pages despite the occasional confusion, I gave The Girl in the Road 4 kreens out of 5.