When looking for the book The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne one can hardly miss the glowing words from Neil Gaiman himself about it. To some this might come as a great boon to be so connected to a famous author and to some it might end up being a curse. It is quite obvious that the blurbs from Gaiman are supposed entice people who enjoy his books to pick this one up as well, but depending on what in Gaiman’s writing one enjoys the reaction to Byrne’s writing might be very different.
The Girl in the Road begins by telling two quite different stories, parallel tales that at first seem to have very little to do with one another, but as it develops so does the relationship between the main characters.
At first there is Meena, a free spirit and student who gets caught in a terrorist attack and finds snake bites on her chest. As she flees through the city she also has visions of a bare foot girl who somehow seems to follow her. Convinced she is being hunted by someone she decides to flee India and cross the Arabian Sea. In an unconventional manner she travels across The Trail an energy harvesting bridge floating on the surface of the water, of which she learns while attending a kind of energy convention. Meena is a woman with a dark past, now and again the reader is treated to memories of a partner named Mohini who at times acts as her conscience as these memories are played back. She also has a complicated relationship to her parents as well as an adventurous sexual past that gets her into trouble time and again on her journey.
The second main character is Mariama, a young girl, who also is on the run through Africa. She is taken in by an eclectic group of travelers as well as the beautiful Yemaya, whom she falls in love with. Like Meena Mariama has a sore on her chest that constantly makes its presence known. Through the journey towards Addis Abba the caravan of travelers encounter bandits visit special places and Mariama is taught how to read in several different languages.
There is a lot to pay attention to in The Girl in the Street and a lot to be missed if one doesn’t. The setting is in a not too distant future and this is gradually revealed through the technology used by Meena, but als her social commentary when it comes to the times in which she lives. The east has become the center of industrialized world, yet there is trouble brewing as well as the caste system very much alive. So the tale becomes one of juxtapositions, on one side the advances in environmental technology, the pozit, a tiny computor (most likely the next step in mobile technology), the glotti, a universal translator and a life pod allowing Meena to live and breathe under water and on the other side the old world values, religion and rigid systems.
Meena represents the new values and ideas in the east, influenced by the west, as is evident by her free acceptance of the technology and her free sexual spirit, while she is always being tugged at by her memories of her parents and the ever present Mohini and the bare foot girl. Mariama is the naive child who experiences the orld world first hand and is amazed by the rules and separation of people and cultures she is told about.
Meena and Mariama’s destinies are slowly intervowen and in the end there are more similarities between them than their journeys and matching chest bites. This is all brilliantly done by Byrne in the end who is excellent and giving the reader just enough information to make them want to turn the page, but never more than that.
In the end though The Girl in the Road is more interesting because of what it has to tell us today than the plot itself. It isn’t the strength of the story that intrigues, but the way it is told. The description of a somewhat bleak future and the struggle between old values and progression is beautifully told and the language is what keeps the interest of the reader. It can be difficult to not turn the page, but when the book has been put down it may be difficult to the finger on what has happened.Byrne’s work is also very much a product of its time. It will most likely not become an instant classic, but viewed as a time capsule of today and what Byrne felt the future might hold. This is not an unlikely scenario and Byrne is well within the realm of possibility when she tries to describe what may lie ahead of us.
All in all The Girl in the Road is a good read due to the beautiful language and thoughts of the future.