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Underground Time: A Novel Paperback – Nov 22 2011

2.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st Edition edition (Nov. 22 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608197123
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608197125
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,109,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“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 out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This was my first French to English translation and it was pretty decent. The book itself is mostly build up, and the ending left me wondering if I had missed something. Upon reflection, I think this book is more philosophical than most, in that it is more about the emotions and the possibilities than the moment. The reader feels sympathy for the characters and becomes quite emotional. The writing style reminded me of Eden Robinson, in that each chapter is a collection of fragmented scenes. You get a glimpse at a situation, and then it changes to something else. It is like watching a movie made of separate, yet connected, clips. This method, I feel, adds to the intimacy of the situations.

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.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I kept putting off reading it because of some of the reviews below, but I shouldn't have: Underground Time is an extraordinarily well-written treatise on the loneliness one feels even when surrounded by people. The language is sparse but beautifully rendered. The city is real and the desperation of the characters is palpable.

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.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This may be one of the worst books ever. Ever. Disappointing, frustrating, infuriating, impotent and exhausting. It has all the charm of a 7am Monday morning policy meeting sans coffee. It has the grace of stepping into an icy cold slushy puddle up to your ankle. I am simultaneously a lesser person and a more automated sheeple for having wasted my time on it. This is exactly the kind of book censoring should be made for.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9d0a918c) out of 5 stars 11 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ba5a828) out of 5 stars Gem of a novel April 1 2013
By Jill - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is life in the 21st century: Wake up and hear the noises of the city around you. Heave your body into a train car, squeezing every last inch of yourself into a vacancy. Physically contact several people during your commute; feel utterly alone. Sit at your desk and consider your work. Encounter numerous people throughout the day; connect with none of them. Push your body into the train again; stand mere centimeters from several other human beings. Return home, exhausted by your solitude, miserable from your loneliness. This is life today.

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.

Favorite Quotation:
"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."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ba5a8dc) out of 5 stars Wonderful Novel May 10 2012
By Adriana in Los Angeles - Published on
Format: Paperback
I won this novel in a random giveaway on another website, and I absolutely loved it. This was such a well wrought novel with beautifully crafted sympathetic characters; it was a genuine pleasure to read. It reminded me of some of the darker stories by Maggie O'Farrell, only much bleaker. That's both good and bad. Delphine de Vigan so perfectly captures the despair of day-to-day existence when you live in a big city and feel disconnected from everyone around you.

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. . . .
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ba5a468) out of 5 stars He knows its princes and its beggars. Nov. 23 2011
By Craobh Rua - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.
HASH(0x9c34ab4c) out of 5 stars Beautifully written, but somewhat unfulfilling Feb. 22 2012
By Live2Cruise - Published on
Format: Paperback
*This book was read and reviewed for the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program*

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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c065c24) out of 5 stars Clever little novel May 15 2013
By jood - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to me by a French friend, who has read several of the author's book in her native French. Once I read the book (in English), I have not stopped talking about it. The story is occasionally maddening and you might think a bit trite, but the author knows exactly where she is going. I recommend this, especially to book clubs because this is a book you will want to discuss. Another good one by the same author is No and Me, a young adult novel, but to me, enjoyable at all ages.

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