Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan

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Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan
Buy Underground Time from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Underground Time from Amazon.com

Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: A captivating read which, although distressing at times, is impossible to put down.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408811115

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Mathilde is unhappy at work. More than just unhappy actually, because after expressing an opinion different to her boss he has frozen her out of the team and bullied her mentally and emotionally for months. Mathilde is a woman on the edge of breaking point, feeling increasingly brow-beaten by both the demands of city life and her awful boss. Meanwhile Thibault is an emergency on-call doctor, racing from one district to another through the nightmares of Parisian traffic, unhappy in his relationship and also struggling, mentally, to survive. Will today be the day that changes everything?

I found this to be a really compelling read. Both Mathilde and Thibault are immediately interesting, sympathetic characters. For Mathilde in particular, De Vigan creates a rising tension, and as the book progressed I felt physically sick on behalf of Mathilde and the unfairness of her situation. You can immediately see how easily such a situation can come about, and although you're screaming for Mathilde to tell someone, to get some help, at the same time you can see how she has found herself stuck, unable to act and rescue herself. As you watch her boss' actions you're on the edge of your seat, hoping against hope that everything will, somehow, be okay.

Thibault's situation is upsetting because of the nature of his work and his state of mind whilst undertaking that work. He travels around the city of Paris making emergency doctor calls to people who, he realises, will perhaps see no one but him for the whole day. He deals with minor ailments, suicide attempts, dehydrated elderly people refusing to leave their homes and aggressive business men who demand prescriptions to get them back up and running in 24 hours. His slow crawls through city traffic, the endless checking of his mobile for messages from his girlfriend, the difference of his life now and what, potentially, it could have been; these issues all wear him down, slowly but surely.

As the title suggests, there is a lot of reflection of time spent commuting, using the Parisian Metro and rail system. Even though it's in relation to Paris, it could just as easily be describing a Londoner's commute on the tube. De Vigan makes some great observations about underground etiquette, and you really get the sense of how a life of unchanging routine is so easy to fall into and so difficult to then escape. I could picture myself there, recalling my own endless train journeys in and out of London each day as she writes with her forehead against the window, she's watching the apartment blocks alongside the track go by, with their half-open curtains, underpants on the line, symmetrical flower pots, a child's tractor abandoned on a balcony, these tiny lives, reduced, uncountable.

The ending was a disappointment, for me, and some might find Mathilde's crushing bullying experience a little too distressing to read, but overall this is a beautifully written book, smoothly translated and well worth a read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Delphine de Vigan's first novel is another great read, and is also suitable for all ages.

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