Warning: You can't really talk about this book without spoilers.
I’ve owned this book for a while, constantly confusing it with the similarly named The Girl on the Train. There was some chick involved and she partook in transportation – that’s all I knew. I’ve finally read both, and now I’ll definitely be able to keep them straight.
The science fiction aspect of this novel is really interesting. I wouldn’t be opposed to reading another story set in this version of the future. The technologies characters interact with (such as the Trail, the womb-like pods Meena sleeps in, the desalinators, scrolls, and other artifacts of a connected world) take on a sentience that puts me in mind of the conscious ocean of Solaris.
On the surface (Is this too subtle of a pun?), I loved the image of the Trail. The barren expanse of it, the mythologies created around a glorified generator that echo traditional Hindi lore, the ghosts, living and dead, who frequent its scales. Some imagery in this novel is static and concrete – I may even consider some metaphors explainable. The obvious symbol of the snake, once feared, once lost (and even once imagined), ultimately conquered is one of the anchor points on which you can find solid-footing. However, other symbols, like glistening, alluring mercury, slip right through your fingers, over and over. But they are no less beautiful for it, and, perhaps, derive their power from their ever-shifting, transitory nature (just as the Trail derives power from unpredictable, destructive waves [I am on a roll today, sorry]). This is a fancy way of me saying that I was pretty confused sometimes, but enjoyed it.
The simultaneously most powerful and most confusing trope in the novel was the cyclical nature of motherhood: the incestuous nature of being our own mothers while committing matricide. The women of this novel strive to accept their deepest selves all while rejecting their most immediate impetuses. Do our mothers create us, or do we create them? This novel questioned the place from which identity derives, and tested the hypothesis: can an identity, and the traumas therein, be transferred? I knew Meena and Mariama were careening toward each other, through time and space, but I was not exactly sure how they’d be fused together. Who was to be the mother? Who was to be the daughter? Was the bond genetic, mystical, religious, imposed by another hand, a complete fantasy? And that confusion reinforced the idea that it did not really matter: they are each other’s mother, because they are each other, and they are simultaneously a god-figure, full of life and prophecy, and a bringer of murder and lunacy, to repeat indefinitely, defined by one another.
I’m stealing this symbol from a Goodreads review of the novel, because it’s just so fitting:
This was a strange, complex novel, but not at all unapproachable. Trust your intuition while reading and don’t let yourself get hung up on the million mysteries in the beginning. The “golden meaning,” as Yemaya would call it, will sneak up on you in its own time.