21 June 2016 3 Comments
Author: Monica Byrne
Summary: One day Meena gets out of her bed covered in blood, with mysterious snakebites on her chest. Someone is after her – and she must flee India at once. As she plots her escape she learns of The Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge across the Arabian sea. It has become a refuge for itinerant dreamers and loners on the run. Now it will become Meena’s salvation.
With a knapsack full of supplies, Meena sets off across the bridge to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. But as she runs away from the threat of violence, she is also running towards a shocking revelation about her past.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5
Review: ‘Weird’ and ‘What’ were the two words i thought when i’d finished reading this book. And currently one of the most positive things i can say about it is that it still has me thinking. There are plenty of things to ponder on, in hindsight, if you choose to.
On the face of it, this book is about two women, each on a journey. Alone, their stories were somewhat interesting, but not interesting enough. It was clear to me from the start that their lives would overlap at some point and i spent most of the book waiting for it. Meena, with her strong will, fierce independence and sexual freedom, i liked a lot at first. Then she started showing how shallow, selfish and reckless she was and i didn’t care any more. Mariama intrigued me enough all the way though, and the fact that she had a set of supporting characters that were not simply memories helped her story a lot.
Set in the foreseeable future, the science fiction aspect of the book was subtle, believable and very interesting. It was also simply a setting for the narrative; the advanced technology plays no intrinsic role to the plot (other than that of The Trail, which still is a setting and could easily be switched out without affecting the core elements of the story). I both loved and regretted that the science fiction wasn’t a larger part of the book. Loved, because it allowed the focus to fall on the characters while allowing the narrative as a whole to be more than contemporary. Regretted, because it was interesting and i would have loved to see more of this world.
I found the first 200 pages really hard to get through. I felt no drive in the story; there was nothing intriguing enough for me to want to pick up the book and keep reading. The book starts out strong, throwing the reader into the lives of these women immediately after something terrible has happened to each of them and we’re left trying to keep up. But after the initial chapter or two the time in both narratives, though particularly in Meena’s, moves very slowly. Days and week stretch out, and we see them make slow, slow progress on their journeys.
It’s only at the last 100 pages where both the plot and the pace pick up. By this time there were overlapping elements in both narratives, but how, exactly, the two women were linked was saved until the last few chapters. The questions the revelation brings are numerous, and the role these women play in each others’ lives and the magnitude of that is only given the last 10 pages or so. It’s a shame in some ways, but an excellent place to finish for others.
Or, it would have been an excellent place to finish, were it not for the epilogue. I’m generally not a fan of epilogues–of dragging a book out and wrapping it up too thoroughly–and this epilogue wasn’t even the worst. It was open ended, it left the reader with something to think about. The thing is, the book does that well enough without the epilogue! There are plenty of elements to think about and pull together, without throwing in another one in the epilogue. I think the book, as a whole, is stronger without that extra intrigue; it feels a little self indulgent of the author (as most epilogues do).
The details and symbolic parallels between the two women’s lives are scattered throughout the book, and it is this aspect that i am mostly still pondering on. Some details are small, seemingly insignificant things like names and brands. Other are larger and more important concepts and themes. These are the really intriguing parts of the book for me.
It’s a shame that the first two thirds of the book wasn’t independently stronger–it hinges so much on the revelation at the end of the book. I suspect the best way to enjoy it and get the most from it would be on a re-read. Unfortunately, it was such a slog to get through it the first time, that i’m disinclined to read it again.