The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

The Girl in the Road by Monica ByrneThis is the story of two women and two journeys, of passion and madness and longing for a lost mother. Meena leaves her home in India fleeing from a danger she is sure is coming for her. She tries to make her way over the sea to Djibouti, travelling along a wave power generator that stretches almost all the way. Mariam is also running, a child escaping from slavery and making her way across Africa to Ethiopia.

The Girl in the Road is clearly science fiction, but labelled and marketed as literary fiction. Perhaps this is intented to lure readers who could possibly be scared away by a genre tag. It is the kind of story that can appeal to a wide range of readers, because the story is focusing on realatively ordinary people inhabiting the future world without holding any of the keys to the large scale changes. They have to cope with living in a changing world, just as we are.

At the same time, these women are enigmatic and strange, both in their own ways. Their stories are told in first person, and both of them are quirky and unreliable. There are so many questions that they never ask themselves, about what they are doing and why, that follow the reader through the book. Who is the girl in the road?

The great science fiction elements are all in the background, but undeniably important to the story. Social change and climate change are affecting everything - the available life choices and the political struggles. The reader glimpses all of this as a backdrop, but mostly through the strong effects on the experiences of the protagonists. Technological change is visible in a grand way in the form of the huge wave power generator, but the small things are also important – like the compact survival gear Meena acquires before she sets out on her long journey.

To me, who is not personally acquainted with India or Africa, the near future settings seems very strong and believable. Real. Perhaps I'm missing clues that give depth to the story because I don't know enough about these parts of the world, but neither would I notice if there were any mistakes or errors in the details of geography and culture. It's weird to think that central Africa, for example, is more alien to people in our part of the world than perhaps fictive worlds like Tatooine. I hope to see that change radically in my lifetime.