Highway Blue

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Pub Date 6 May 2021 | Archive Date 5 Jun 2021

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Description

Featured in the Observer 10 BEST DEBUTS OF 2021
A hypnotic story of young love on the run

'I loved Highway Blue - a dark, glimmering, journey deep into modern America on a knife edge between love and dependence.'
Rosie Price, author of What Red Was

'Hypnotic, stylish, cinematic: Highway Blue holds you captive like a blues song or incantation.' Olivia Sudjic, author of Asylum Road

In front of me the long length of the road wound out, wound out and wound on under hot sky. And I drove...


Anne Marie is adrift San Padua, living a precarious life of shift-work and shared apartments. Her husband Cal left her on their first anniversary and two years later, she can't move on.

When he shows up suddenly on her doorstep, clearly in some kind of trouble, she reluctantly agrees to a drink. But later that night a gun goes off in an alley near the shore and the young couple flee together, crammed into a beat up car with their broken past. Their ill-at-ease odyssey takes them across a shimmering American landscape and through the darker seams of the country, towards a city that may or may not represent salvation.

Highway Blue is a story of being lost and found; of love, in all its forms; and of how the pursuit of love is, in its turn, a kind of redemption.

Featured in the Observer 10 BEST DEBUTS OF 2021
A hypnotic story of young love on the run

'I loved Highway Blue - a dark, glimmering, journey deep into modern America on a knife edge between love and...


Advance Praise

'I'm in awe of the way McFarlane uses just a few words to carve out these deeply complex characters we meet in Highway Blue. Poignant, moving, and cinematic, this is a story imbued with love and loss that feels at once distantly dreamlike and vividly recognisable' An Yu, author of Braised Pork

'I loved Highway Blue - a dark, glimmering, journey deep into modern America on a knife edge between love and dependence' Rosie Price, author of What Red Was

'Hypnotic, stylish, cinematic . . . Highway Blue holds you captive like a blues song or incantation' - Olivia Sudjic, author of Asylum Road

'Highway Blue is a beautiful, inspired rendering of the on-the-road journey. At its core is an unforgettable protagonist in Anne Marie, and with delicate strokes her world moves in and out of its scenic, and at times tense scape. This seamless work is unobtrusive but deeply effecting; an exquisite portrayal of introspection. McFarlane has written an irresistible story of love and life's meanderings. A very gifted writer, I was entranced' - Elaine Feeney, author of As You Were

'In Highway Blue, the richness and pathos of the ordinary is heightened by the private mysteries of McFarlane's innocent fugitives as they run from both the law and themselves. It is a harrowing journey, but one filled with unexpected kindnesses and the illuminating effect of transformation. I so admire it' - Susanna Moore, author of In the Cut

'If one of America's many complicated attributes is its ability to let whole lives pass without being seen, Ailsa McFarlane reminds us that language can bring these same lives into stark and penetrating relief. Highway Blue is a road novel, a love story, a coming of age, but with sentences so sharply wrought, characters so achingly precise, that it feels new and fresh and utterly alive.' - Lynn Steger Strong, author of Want

'Ailsa McFarlane's prose combines the razor sharp truth telling of Ottessa Moshfegh with the troubled heart of Raymond Carver, using plain language to conjure a shockingly intense way of seeing. I've never read anything quite like it.' - Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of The Third Rainbow Girl

'I'm in awe of the way McFarlane uses just a few words to carve out these deeply complex characters we meet in Highway Blue. Poignant, moving, and cinematic, this is a story imbued with love and loss...


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ISBN 9781787302365
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Featured Reviews

I absolutely love this modern-day Bonnie and Clyde type story. The scenery is so real it could actually be a character in this vivid book. Well told perfectly paced, this will be one of the best books of the year.

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An enjoyable read with a few twists and turns, I was glued to it from the first page and couldn’t put it down ..........

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This novel comes across more like a screenplay, with highly descriptive passages oozing with atmosphere and heavy on the dialogue. The first person narrative is also cleverly written like spoken word, with cadences and repetition, lending an hypnotic quality to the reading experience, and although there is little action, it feels like being part of someone’s dream - a most impressive debut.

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Highway Blue Anne Marie is 21 and lives in a small town called San Padua. It’s not so much a life but an existence of dog walking by day and bartending by night. After work she goes home to a house that she shares with 4 strangers and it’s been like this since her husband, Cal, got up one morning and left. She hasn’t heard from him since. They got married when she was 19 and he left on their first anniversary. Then he unexpectedly appears in her life again but Anne Marie doesn’t have what he wants. Money. And when an encounter in an alley ends in a death, he and Anne Marie take to the road to escape with a vague destination in mind. It’s a long trip across America and what will happen at the end of it? This is a slim novella at 192 pages but I thought that Anne Marie was a believable character. She let things happen to her and seemed to be numb to the world. Cal turning up again out of the blue was the turning point that she needed to feel part of the world again although it wasn’t a welcome one. Anne Marie narrates the story in the first person as she describes life on the road for two people without much money and a desire to vanish quickly. The long, long road, coffee shops, a model of a giant chicken on top of one gas station, framed misspelled Bible quotations on the walls of a pizza restaurant and the kindness of strangers who offer them lifts or a bed for the night. Along the way, she tells us about her history, her mother’s tragic death when she was aged 15, how she and Cal met and their honeymoon night in an abandoned house. Vignettes of lives and towns that flash past and out of sight as you drive past on your way to somewhere else. The impression that I had of Anne Marie was that she seemed to be someone who was walking through treacle. She had settled for a ‘little life’ and now she was stuck in it. But somewhere on the journey, Anne Marie realises that she has got to change her life. Cal is someone who can put on ‘a different front’, she says that he’s untrustworthy when she finds a message on his phone from another woman, and he admits that he never loved her. He only came back to her out of desperation. This is a confident debut novel which features a protagonist whose life isn’t what she would have chosen but appeared to be too alienated to have chosen anything else. However, the ending seemed to be more positive for Anna Marie. I really enjoyed her keen observations of life on the road with its brief glimpses of other lives and the way in which she tells us her story and her mother’s own thwarted dreams. She sees Cal and her as being ‘bunches of cells’ and I loved the description of the abandoned house in which they spend their wedding night which was full of drifted sand. It felt like a metaphor for their doomed relationship. This is a writer to watch. My thanks to Vintage Secker and Netgalley for an ARC.

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This short novel is intriguing. It starts with Anne-Marie, living in a shared apartment in a city in an unnamed country. One day, her ex-husband, Cal, arrives and this triggers a journey with him, something she would never have expected. Evidently, Anne-Marie has had some tough things happen to her. So when Cal arrives, she is reluctant to accept him back into her life. Shortly afterwards, something major happens which ties her to Cal, to an extent, and they head off, leaving San Padua behind. MacFarlane’s novel is focused on exposition - there’s a lot of telling. This is no bad thing here. The prose is pared back; the storyline is sparse in many ways. Readers do learn about the minutiae, the everyday domestics that we take for granted. We’re never sure where this is set. Place names seem fictional. Does it matter? I suspect a Central or South American country, given details and hints, but at the end, readers don’t really know. What is more important is Anne-Marie’s journey, what she learns about herself. Towards the end, she makes a decision and leaves Cal; this also leaves readers pondering what will happen to her. I enjoyed this swift read. Some might find it uneventful; some might long for more action. But overall, readers are privy to a couple’s relationship, one that has gone through turbulent times, and it is this which makes for a good read.

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This read was really surprising. Thoroughly engrossing and wonderfully written in gorgeous, atmospheric, singular prose. I'd highly recommend reading for its vivid, transportive imagery and for the honest brilliance of its protagonist. It's very short but a real triumph. Unlike anything you'll read in a long time.

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Anne Marie is working at a bar by night and walks dogs by day, trying to build a new life for herself and forget about her ex-husband Cal. She marries him aged 19 and he disappears a year later then out of the blue he turns up several years on. What does he want? Why is he back? Unfortunately he brings disaster to her door and they have to take to ‘Highway Blue’ to escape the consequences. I really like this short novel especially the way it’s written which is extremely simply, it’s stripped back and with no unnecessary frills. I equally like that we’re either inside Anne Marie’s head or she’s having a dialogue with us. Despite its simplicity you get a strong sense of character and you see Cal for what he is and so, finally, does she. She’s changed, she’s not prepared to just accept although her youthful naivety does come across at the beginning as her thought processes unfurl she’s really starting to see him for what he is and her idealism has gone. She’s an introspective deep thinker with much more substance than Cal, she’s not necessarily a barrel of laughs, far from it as she can be melancholic. Her mind focuses on the tiny things to stop herself from thinking about bigger issues and she makes apt and profound comparisons to her situation. There’s an other worldly aura created, it’s almost dreamlike and a bit surreal in places and in others it’s sheer chaos which makes for an interesting comparison. The chaos involves some fearful moments of panic which causes feelings of claustrophobia enveloping her. As they pass through areas and places (we assume Southern California although it’s unspecific) there are some good and colourful descriptions of the journey which gives her the opportunity to reflect and make some welcome decisions. Overall, this is a clever debut which is principally about the growth of self knowledge and understanding, it’s about growing up and confronting the past and moving on. With thanks to NetGalley and Random House, Vintage for the arc in return for an honest review.

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Ailsa McFarlane’s bleakly beautiful debut follows Anne Marie and her estranged husband who are on the run after a dramatic encounter. Cal walked out on Anne Marie two years ago leaving her empty and numb. When he turns up out of the blue, Anne Marie is wary and with reason. Soon, they’re on the run, one of them having shot dead the man pursuing Cal. As they head south, Anne Marie reflects on this short marriage to a man she loves dearly but who hollowed out her already troubled life, scarred by the death of her mother when she was fifteen. Their journey ends in the city where Anne Marie’s mother grew up. Delivered in uncluttered, brief sentences from which the occasional gorgeous descriptive paragraph shines out, Anne Marie’s narrative echoes her own pared back existence. Much is left unsaid as her story unfolds but it’s clear that the loss of her mother has left a yawning gap that she hoped Cal would fill. In terms of a dysfunctional love story you could compare it with Gwendoline Riley’s much praised First Love but the quality of McFarlane’s writing eclipses that.

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Highway Blue by Ailsa McFarlane is an interesting story told in a lyrical, mesmeric style. The writing is delightfully sensuous and expressive, full of colours, sounds and smells. Anne-Marie is still a young woman deeply missing her mother who died when she was a child and regretting other decisions she has made so far in her relatively short existence. On this journey she makes with her ex-husband Cal who turns up out of the blue after leaving her two years previously, Anne-Marie gets an opportunity to consider her life from a distance which helps her make better decisions. Although similar to other road trip stories, I feel Anne-Marie is making a journey of self discovery alongside the obvious physical one.

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Impressive debut novel. Sparse yet highly emotive and atmospheric writing, reminiscent of Paris, Texas cinematography and drifters of Jim Jarmusch’s films from the 1990s. On the surface, this is a road trip novel with estranged couple Anne Marie and Cal fleeing from an accident/crime scene. It is also an inner journey of self-discovery for its protagonist, 21-year-old Anne Marie as she examines her transient life and relationships. Highway Blue is set in an unnamed yet familiar country, it could be the US, a Central or a South American country. This ambiguity also adds to the wistful, dreamlike feel of the novel. Definitely an author to watch! My thanks to Harvill Secker and Netgalley for the opportunity to read Highway Blue.

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I have to be honest. The first thing that made we want a copy of Highway Blue was the cover. I found it intriguing. It promised a different kind of read, something I have been seeking out more and more lately. And that’s exactly what I got. Yes, this book started with a murder (as most of the books I read do, let’s be honest). But it quickly turned into so much more, a dark journey through a dark country, one where most people are living on the edge and seem to have given up hope. If it doesn’t seem like the most cheerful of reads, it wasn’t. However, by the end, I felt uplifted. Anne Marie may have started the novel without hope but – somewhere along the way – she found it again. It made me feel that, just maybe, all was not lost. That she could end up having a good life, even if it had been pretty crappy so far. I wasn’t so keen on her ex-husband Cal, but I dont’ think I was supposed to be. Anne Marie was one of the main reasons I liked this book. Beyond that though, it was the writing style. I could picture the landscape, the grittiness of it, the dirt and despair. And it forced me to read at a pace that made me feel I was speeding down the highly with Anne Marie and Cal. It was relentless. And the that this is a debut novel makes it even more impressive. Overall, there wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy about this book. Highly recommended.

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Highway Blue is an exquisite debut novel by Alisa McFarlane. Ann Marie is working a precarious unpromising job and is clearly drifting around an unsettled after the break up of her short-term marriage. We first meet her on her first anniversary. Cal, her husband appears after being involved in something and it isn’t long until trouble comes their way again, a gun goes off and they are soon on the run. This short book then follows them, heading away, unsure quite where just away. This book takes on a new type of road trip novel, whilst there may be a lack of direction they are travelling on; narratively its impact is instant. Each encounter they have is memorable. In the writing, there is a sharp, intense use of language. The light in the room, the bottle on the floor or the feel of a sofa all mentioned with such vivid language it’s visceral and utterly compelling. The book is short but it’s easy to invest and emotionally connect with Ann Marie. A simple line of “she had gone away” when discussing her mother, said a lot. What she chasses to reveal we trust and it creates an intrinsic bond. I look forward to seeing what the author does with characters over a longer stretch of time, however this succinct smart novel leaves an impact on their short journey and is tipped as one of the must read books of the year for good reason.

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The story is a modern Bonnie and Clyde - it follows a young 20-something woman called Anne Marie, who’s husband left her suddenly, a year after their wedding, two years ago. When he shows up again out of the blue, a law-breaking incident takes them on a soul-searching road trip where they are forced to rediscover the new people they have become.

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Anne Marie has been adrift since the death of her mother when she was a teenager. Not getting on with her aunt, she moves out and quickly meets and marries restless Cal, who leaves her after just one year of marriage. Devastated, she lives a half-life in a shared apartment with a dead-end job, until one night Cal arrives at her door, in debt and looking for money. Trouble follows him and the couple are jumped by an armed man, but it is he who ends up dead in an alley as the ill-fated couple go on the run across America to a place Anne Marie connects with her lost childhood. This is a very atmospheric novella, economical but very sensual in its descriptions. It reads like a fever dream as the couple travel, through hitching or by battered old car, in intense heat, eating from gas stations and living rough. The people they meet are seen through vivid snapshots. Anne Marie is forced to confront her feelings for Cal, and also to be reconciled with her past, while being haunted by the life that was taken, and on this journey she must decide what will be the way forward for her. A quick read, but one with depth and heart.

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A great debut. Fabulous characters and a dramatic plot which looks at contemporary issues of coercion and violence wth real depth

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Highway Blue is a short novel but it packs a punch. Anne Marie is leading an aimless life after her husband left her 2 years earlier. He suddenly turns up on her doorstep leading to a violent encounter which sends the estranged couple on the run. The novel is told in the first person by Anne Marie as she and Cal travel away from San Padua. The language and descriptions are rich and evocative and the memories she recounts of her childhood and her brief marriage vividly explain the woman she has become. There is little in the way of actual story but somehow the novel draws you in to Anne Marie’s life. I loved it, it is an unusual book but one that will stay with me for a long time. I look forward to reading more from Ailsa McFarlane. Thank you #netgalley and #penguinrandom for inviting me to review this ARC

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There is something almost mesmerising in this short novel, in its quiet beauty. Perhaps it's the recurrence of the colour blue, of the ocean, of the sunsets, the heat and the long road stretching in front of the characters. Highway Blue is the story of two small people, who meet other small people on the road and listen to their own small stories. It feels universal. I was struck by the book's melancholy, and finished it wishing that, whatever happened next to them, everything would be okay for both Anne Marie and Cal.

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A good read, it’s fast paced so a good page turner. You follow Anne Marie as she reflects on the past with her ex husband Cal whilst they race away from the present. It’s a coming of age story for Anne Marie where she has to make some decisions for her future to move on and leave the past behind her.

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A remarkably accomplished debut novel. It’s the story of Anne Marie and her husband Cal, the husband who walked out on her after just one year of marriage, leaving her lost and adrift. Then 2 years later he suddenly turns up again out of the blue, but their reunion has an unexpected and unwelcome result. I found the book haunting and compelling, a dark and gritty tale of two young people at odds with their lives and circumstances. In calm and measured prose, the author describes their plight and the landscape they move through without melodrama or unnecessary exposition but vividly and with empathy. An unusual and moving coming-of-age story.

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Anne Marie and Cal got married young; she was just nineteen, he a few years older. A year later, he walked out one morning, leaving Anne Marie to an aimless life of bar work, shared apartments and one night stands. Two years later, he shows up out of the blue, trying to put things right, but he brings trouble with him, and the couple are soon on the run, taking the Highway Blue in search of love and belonging. Highway Blue is a short novel (less than 200 pages), but a compelling, memorable one. Despite the violence that sets Anne Marie and Cal on the run, the book isn't plot-driven as such - this isn't the sort of road trip that involves fast car chases or the encountering of odd people or unusual places. Instead, as they travel south by car and hitch-hiking back to the town where Anne Marie was born, she journeys back though her life, not nostalgically but in an attempt to understand herself and the position she finds herself in now. It's beautifully written, told by Anne Marie in the first person, with a haunting, yearning quality. With her, the reader dips back into her childhood and her realtionship with her mother, experiences her all consuming but brief love for Cal, and shares her hunger for something better than she's known so far.

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This is a brilliant read. Wonderful well written plot and story line that had me engaged from the start. Love the well fleshed out characters and found them believable. Great drama and romance with wonderful world building. Can't wait to read what the author brings out next. Recommend reading. I was provided an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher. This is my own honest voluntary review.

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Very good. Hadn't known much about it or the author but a very enjoyable, assured read. Interesting to see what she writes next

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