Underground Time: A Novel Paperback – Nov 22 2011
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“De Vigan keeps you going with lovely language... The book isn't just about these two strangers and what they have in common, it is about what all of us have in common, strangers or not.” ―Courtnay Glatter, Bust
“De Vigan's lucid take on the fragility of our purchase on happiness and the frenzied madness of our cities clearly comes through in this bracingly acerbic novel.” ―Kathryn Lang, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[An] elegantly constructed, sympathetic, compelling, enjoyable novel.” ―Nicola Barr, Guardian
“De Vigan has beautifully captured the behind-the-scenes agendas of personal and professional lives... an engrossing, well-paced story that takes us into a world most of us know but rarely discuss.” ―Carol Gladstein, Booklist
“Delphine de Vigan's novel Underground Time reveals the psychological working conditions endured by 21st century corporate middle management employees and the loneliness, isolation, and anonymity of contemporary urban life in much the same way that Upton Sinclair's The Jungle exposed the hazardous working conditions of slaughterhouse workers and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie portrayed sexual exploitation in urban life a century ago.” ―David Cooper, New York Journal of Books
About the Author
Delphine de Vigan is the author of No and Me, which was a bestseller in France and was awarded the Prix des Libraires (The Booksellers' Prize) in 2008. Her other novels include Jolis Garcons and Soir de decembre. Underground Time was shortlisted for the 2009 Goncourt. George Miller is the translator of No and Me. He is also a regular translator for Le Monde diplomatique's English-language edition, and the translator of Conversations with my Gardener by Henri Cueco and Inside Al-Qaeda by Mohammed Sifaoui. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Mathilde’s plotline was very tense. You could feel her stress and despair. So many women are in similar positions and I like how the book gave awareness of bullying towards women in the workplace. While a man could quit his job and still get by, Mathilde has three children. It was difficult reading her story at times because it felt like there was no solution. Thibault’s plotline was a bit less tense, but it had more despair. A great sense of loss is felt for both characters. Intuition and the ability to read between the lines is important for understanding this story. There is lots to think about after finishing the book.
Of the two protagonists, Mathilde's story is stronger than Thibault's. The stories don't parallel as closely as I think they were intentioned to and often Thibault comes off as nothing more than clingy and whining to Mathilde's quiet desperation. But without Thibault, I think the novel would falter. It's a quick read as it is, but a very worthwhile one.
The ending is the ending that has to be. I know some people have taken issue with it, but how often do you have a day when all you need is that one bit of human connection. On days like that, connection never arrives. I don't see how the book could be any different.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Mathilde and Thibault are professionals in Paris, a city many consider to be the most magical and beautiful in the world, but they both ache from the city's harshness. In beautiful yet disjointed passages, de Vigan describes the day of both Mathilde and Thibault. Unsatisfied with their jobs, they wander, alone, throughout the city.
Reading about loneliness is both comforting yet boring. It's reassuring to realize people have suffered from the same feelings as you, but overall, ennui isn't terribly interesting. That's why Underground Time wasn't a spectacular read for me. Nevertheless, it moves quickly and the emotions it evokes are worth more than the less than exciting plot.
This is a very French novel. Things are depicted as they are rather than how we wish them to be. It's also a very 21st century novel. Gone are novels detailing epic fights or webs of intrigue; nowadays we have these languorous, psychological works, a trend I could come to support if I can learn to spell languorous and psychology can be made more interesting.
The best part of reading this novel is determining what, if anything, de Vigan blames for Mathilde and Thibault's smothering solitude. Personally, I think we are at fault. We can blame the city, urban life, and business culture. We can say the city divides people, separates them until they have no one to turn to. But there are several instances throughout the novel where Thibault or Mathilde could have struck up a relationship or merely a conversation with someone else. But they don't. The city is absolute.
"His life is in this incessant toing and froing, these exhausted days, these stairways, these lifts, these doors which close behind him.
His life is at the heart of the city. And the city, with its noise, covers the complaints and the murmurs, hides its poverty, displays its dustbins and its wealth, and ceaselessly increases its speed."
Two people, strangers to each other, Mathilde and Thibault, go about their day. It is exquisitely heartbreaking to accompany them as they force themselves to make it through yet another day. Both are desperate to connect to someone else, and they would both obviously benefit from having each other in their lives. And then their paths finally cross. . . .
The book opens with Mathilde waking at 4am. A few weeks previously, she'd been to see a clairvoyant on a (very expensive) whim and was told that her life would change on the 20th of May. Mathilde is 40 and, although she generally refers to herself as a single mother, she's been a widow for ten years. She has three sons, and has been working as the Deputy Director of Marketing in an international food company for more than eight years. She's well-educated and had always been an excellent professional. However, this last eight months have been very difficult for her. Following a minor difference of opinions with her boss the previous September, he has systematically set about attempting to destroy her. He's done a pretty thorough job : she's lost all hope, all sense of confidence in herself, suffers from insomnia and feels physically sick when faced with the day ahead. However, today is the 20th of May and, in spite of everything, Mathilde half believes that today will be a significant day.
At the very moment Mathilde wakes up, Thibault is also facing a dilemma. He's spent the weekend with Lila, his lover, in Honfleur, but they'll be returning to Paris in the morning. Lila is the source of Thibault's trouble : he loves her dearly, but she's made it clear she doesn't feel the same way. Knowing he'll never be more than a plaything, good for only the occasional weekend away, he's decided to call time on the relationship. As much as it'll hurt to walk away from her, Thibault knows it'll hurt even more to stay. "Underground Time" follows both Mathilde and Thibault, switching from one to the other as each struggles through a very difficult day.
I thought "No and Me" was an excellent book, and had no hesitation in picking up "Underground Time" based on that. What surprised me was just how much better it was - this is just a superbly written book, a very strong contender for the best book I've read this year. Mathilde and Thibault were very easy to care for, and it's hard not to want the best for them. The little things they had in common brought a smile every once in a while, and I did wonder a couple of times if de Vigan would go for the happy ending. (I don't want to drop any hints, but the ending felt convincing and right to me). Absolutely recommended.
This novel was riveting from start to finish, with slowly building anticipation throughout, but unfortunately little payoff.
The novel is told in the third person from the perspective of two different characters: Mathilde, who is horribly abused by her boss, and Thibault, a traumatized and lovelorn paramedic. Both go through the motions each day and the reader is tantalized by close encounters throughout the novel as they nearly meet. Each is lost in the rush of a big city, but Mathilde's story is the more compelling while Thibault's character seems somewhat incidental.
It is a difficult novel to put down, as one wonders how the torturous situation with Mathilde's boss will finally resolve, and whether the two lonely characters will ever meet. The writing is taut, suspenseful and compelling. It is difficult to say more about what bothered me about the novel, without spoiling it, but the story just seemed to fizzle out. I think the author had a deeper message in the direction the story took, but ultimately I felt somewhat cheated. So I have mixed feelings about the novel; I think it's definitely a worthwhile read, but less than fulfilling.