A young woman called Meena wakes up one morning covered in blood. There are mysterious snakebites across her chest. She knows she’s in danger but something has happened to her memory. All she can do is run – but why? And from whom?
As Meena plots her escape she hears of the Trail – an extraordinary, forbidden bridge that spans the Arabian sea, connecting India to Africa like a silver ribbon. Its purpose is to harness the power of the ocean – Blue Energy – but it also offers a subculture of travellers a chance for sanctuary and adventure.
Convinced the Trail is her salvation, Meena gathers supplies – GPS, a scroll reader, a sealable waterproof pod. And so begins her extraordinary journey – both physical and spiritual – from India to Ethiopia, the home of her birth. But as she runs away from the threat of violence she is also running towards a shocking revelation about her past and her family.
The Girl in the Road is such an unusual novel, and one that I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have picked up if it I hadn’t been offered it for a review. Based on the synopsis alone, I assumed it was a straight crime/mystery novel, but this book doesn’t seem to fit into any one genre. It’s one part science-fiction, one part adventure, set in the future with a focus on self-identity and power. The cover gives no real clue of what to expect; in all honesty I felt as though it had a feeling of the Millennium series about it, from The Girl… title to the imagery used. There’s an overlap, definitely, but a it’s different feel altogether.
It took a while to really get going; I found it difficult to pin down all the different character names at first. Meena’s story is a little confusing to begin with, and then Byrne introduces a secondary protagonist, Mariama. Ultimately I found it a lot easier to engage with Meena’s story than with Mariama’s, though it’s easy to see why Byrne felt the latter’s was important to tell.
This is a book full of incredible ideas, and I do believe that it’s something very different to what most people will read this year. There’s a shocking moment that I feel even alluding to is venturing into spoiler territory; it’s probably a book worth reading just for that moment.
I can’t say that it’s a book that I enjoyed wholeheartedly; I wasn’t left with an entirely positive or negative feeling. I think I’d recommend it as a read just to see how other people feel about it!
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
First published: September 2015
Review copy provided by publisher