In the future world of "A Girl in the Road" global power has shifted and a revolution blows with the easterly wind. It's a future where the technology so long held in the west meets the culture of the east.
Into this maelstrom of technology walks Meena, a complicated girl in a complicated world who wakes to find snake bites on her chest. Her worst fears have been realised - someone is after her and she must flee India immediately.
As she begins to plan her escape she learns of the "Trail", an energy generating wave machine on a vast scale that has become an unintentional bridge spanning the Arabian Sea, connecting the coast of India directly with Africa. It's also a refuge for drifters, loners and those on the run. It may just be her salvation. Mariama is in Africa and trying to hitch a ride to India. Both setting off from opposite directions seemingly unrelated and yet following a course that seems connected.
Girl in the road is a complicated book and one that has left me more undecided than pretty much any I've read before. There are touches a brilliance and in parts the book moved me more than most have for as long as I can remember. It is in it's own way quite ingenious but part of that ingenuity is raising uncomfortable, important messages. It's not the easiest of books to read, partly due to serious topics such as rape and violence but also the way the book is constructed.
The story is told from the first person view of the protagonists Meena and Mariama. In a way these perspectives are quite simply breath-taking. Why? because Meena is the most unreliable narrator I have ever come across and as the story unfolds you begin to realise that much that you've read and learned on this journey may or may not be true. It is a stroke of genuis and one that has taken a superb talent to create but it also doesn't lend itself to the easiest reading experience either. While Mariama plays a smaller part her journey is not only just as important but also works as an effective juxtapostion to Meena's travels. The transition between the two protagonists is handled well and is never done in chapter.
One of the elements in the books favour is also one of the main topics, that of mental health. By her own admission Meena has mental health issues and the author manages to visualise this with remarkable clarity. For the simple act of creating a protagonist with such complexities the book should be raised up and praised. Mental Health is still a huge issue that is miss-understood by most, marginalised by many and often miss-treated by medical professionals.
More than this though are the many other topics covered including observations about sexuality, life, death and religion - ground-breaking on many levels. This is especially true regarding the subject of sexuality, gender here is a great deal more fluid than any book I've read to date.
I also love that this story is way outside the western comfort zone that many authors choose as their stage. The future India and Africa of The Girl in the Road is wonderfully different and the juxtaposition of advanced tech and simple living works perfectly, creating a believe-able arena.
On the flip side I wasn't completely comfortable reading from the perspective of a young Woman (being as I am a middle-aged male) - especially given that some of the story involves the "coming of age" of Meena. At times it bordered on a feeling of voyarism, like I was reading someone's diary. The book pulls no punches with graphic, unsensationalised depictions of sex and violence (again with the discomfort).
Ultimately, not all books are created for easy reading and The Girl in the Road is one such book. It does however have that feeling of being important. It is a powerful novel that breaks boundries and asks meaningful, serious questions (however uncomfortable they may be).
The Girl in the Road is an intricate and complex novel with more levels than a high-rise block of flats. It's brilliant in it's own way, just don't expect an easy ride.
Written on Monday 9th June 2014 by Antony.
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