Writer: David Duchovny
Publishing House: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Date of Publication: May 1st 2018
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Because ye old gods are not dead. They walk among us still, with their pagan ideas and habits, waiting for reanimation. They are lonely. They are bored. And very, very pissed off.’’
Well, this is a difficult task, writing a review about such an outstanding book that integrates all the best elements of a number of genres. Urban Fantasy, Folklore, Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism, you name it. If you enjoy any of these genres, if you are keen on world traditions and religions, if Gaiman’s American Gods is one of your absolute, most favourite books, if you love New York or if you simply want to read one of the best novels of the year, then Miss Subways was written for you.
The story follows Emer, a young woman who commutes daily to her work. Emer is a teacher in the second grade class of a private Catholic school whose principle is a snazzy, sassy, absolutely wonderful priest. She is in a relationship with a rather aloof man who goes by the name Con. Now, for reasons beyond her understanding, Emer and Con cannot be together. The powers that be (wherever they are) want them apart and Emer accepts. However, Fate has other plans and our heroine finds herself in a vortex of rules, teachings and strange otherworldly figures, all gathered in the endlessly mesmerizing setting of New York.
Now, I feel that the paragraph above must be the worst synopsis of a book ever written but truly, it is impossible to summarize Miss Subways in a cohesive paragraph. It is so rich and complex and one must read it to fully comprehend its essence. First of all, the influence of American Gods is evident. However, Duchovny uses this inspiration to create a plot with its very own character and substance and not for a moment did I think I was reading a copycat, The major difference is that Duchovny’s focus is placed on the humans and not on the deities and the mythical figures, The story at the heart of this novel is the relationship between Emer and Con, inspired by a well known Irish myth of the Union of Emer and Cú Chulainn , the greatest hero in Irish Mythology. In our contemporary version, it is Emer who has to pass the trials to defend her love and the odds of our era are always stranger and much more complex than any mythical ordeal.
The writing is beautiful. Approachable and literary, poetic and sharp. The saltry, urban scenery of New York provides the best background for a story where gods and myths need to be lost among the mortals and their mundane lives. The descriptions of the city, whether we’re reading morning or nightly scenes, are hypnotic. There is one of the most beautiful descriptions of Central Park I’ve ever read and mystifying Chinatown jumps right out of the page. Papa Legba, Sidhe, Anansi. The myths of the Aboriginals, the teaching of Chinese philosophy, the wealth of Celtic tradition. There are references to the Witches of Macbeth. Deities from different cultures retain all the characteristics of their homelands, antagonizing and cooperating with each other according to their purposes. There is a wonderful passage where Sidhe describes the behavior of the gods in the myths we love. He talks of an age when feelings were experienced to the fullest by deities and mortals alike.
Emer is someone I immediately loved. She is a teacher who lives and breaths for her profession, she has a close relationship with her father and her only best friend is an adorable, edgy lunatic. She remains firmly nailed to her principles and doesn’t let her heart rule her mind. She’s courageous with a deep sense of never giving up. Duchovny writes with respect about a teacher’s feelings of love and hope. The satisfaction when the little ones start reading for the first time was movingly portrayed. It’s rare for a writer to pay such an homage to the teaching profession and I was truly moved. I could relate to each and very feeling and every classroom scene described by Emer and this made me fall in love with the novel.
Take away the folklore and the mythical influences of the story and you’ll still have a beautiful and touching exploration of aspirations, fears and insecurities. A quirky, moving, clever and complex love story and above all, a story about the obstacles a woman has to surpass in every stage of her life. Duchovny writes excellent female characters and Miss Subways definitely deserves all the praise it receives.
‘’The very next morning, Emer was back on the train. What did it mean that she spent so much of her life underground? Regardless of whether or not she’d ever be crowned, Emer felt in her bones that she was and always will be Miss Subways.’’
Many thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.