Delphine de Vigan is a French writer from Boulogne-Billancourt, in the Parisian suburbs. Although "No and Me" was her fourth novel, it was the first to be translated into English. It was selected for the Winter 2010 Richard and Judy Book Club, which did its profile on harm. "Underground Time", her sixth book, was translated into English in 2011. It won the 2009 Prix du Roman d'Entreprise and the 2010 Prix des Lecteurs in Corsica.
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.