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Underground Time: A Novel by Delphine de…

Underground Time: A Novel (original 2009; edition 2011)

by Delphine de Vigan

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1843364,254 (3.57)18
Title:Underground Time: A Novel
Authors:Delphine de Vigan
Info:Bloomsbury USA (2011), Edition: 1, Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library

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Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan (2009)


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English (31)  French (4)  All (35)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Two separate stories run through this novel - one a highly original and gripping account of a hard-working single mother who finds herself frozen out at work by a vengeful boss , the other a rather nebulous tale about a mobile doctor who has just split up with his girlfriend and is feeling sad about it. Of the two, I much preferred the first, which was quite staggering in its portrayal of office politics at their very worst. The second left me entirely cold. The author includes a lot of musing about working relationships and loneliness, and what they say about the world at large - most of which sailed over my head I'm afraid - and I suppose there was an expectation that the two stories would intersect by the end of the novel, but really all I remember having finished was the outrage I felt on Mathilde's behalf at the atrocious behaviour of her boss, and on that level the novel was entirely successful. ( )
  jayne_charles | Sep 10, 2015 |
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. which explains the absolutely wonderful ambiguous ending where Mathilde and Thibault fail to meet and absolve the other’s loneliness 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.”

Discussing urban solitude and business malaise is popular right now. I recently watched Medianeras, an Argentinian film concerned with the same questions as Underground Time. I have the same criticisms of the film as I do the book: meaningful but ultimately flat because of the uninteresting subject matter. ( )
  IAmChrysanthemum | Jun 8, 2013 |
If there's one thing this author knows how to do, it is capture hopelessness. I think going into this having no clue what other people thought of it or really anything about the author made for a really exciting experience for me. However, I'm going to spoil something for you. The blurb for this book made me feel a bit optimistic about what could happen:

"Every day, Mathilde takes the Metro to her job at a large multinational, where she has felt miserable and isolated ever since getting on the wrong side of her bullying boss. Every day, Thibault, a paramedic, drives where his dispatcher directs him, fighting traffic to attend to disasters. For many of the people he rushes to treat, he represents the only human connection in their day. Mathilde and Thibault are just two figures being pushed and shoved in a lonesome, crowded city. But what might happen if these two souls, traveling their separate paths, could meet?"

Two miserable people find each other and make a go of it, right? And live happily ever after? You sly, sly jacket copy writer. That is not what this book is about--actually, it is is one of the most depressing books I have read lately. Almost the entire book is devoted to descriptions of Mathilde being undermined and under-appreciated at work. She is a widow and can't even bring herself to spend time with her friends because they will ask her about work. Thibault, the male lead, is an equally miserable doctor who once dreamed of being a surgeon, a dream that was crushed when he lost several fingers in a bar fight. He is in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable woman and he is unhappy with his job traveling all around the city, visiting patients. The narrative alternates between Mathilde and Thibault, and while I enjoyed Mathilde's portions more, I don't think the story would be complete without Thibault's voice thrown in. The descriptions of Mathilde's work life provided for more instances of pure rage from me as a reader than perhaps any book I've ever read. If it was possible, I'd write myself into this story and I'd have no qualms about torturing her boss in tiny, obnoxious ways until he broke into a million pieces. But both narratives really evoke the loneliness so many of us feel, even when we're surrounded by people.

"Carried along by the dense, disorganised tide, he thought that the city would always impose its own rhythms, its haste, its rush hours, that it would always remain unaware of these millions of solitary journeys at whose points of intersection there is nothing. Nothing but a void, or else a spark that instantly goes out." (257)

Today, when I was driving downtown, I saw a young woman about my age who had crutches and a walking boot on her leg. It was raining, she was going very slowly up a hill, and she looked miserable. I asked if I could drive her to wherever she was going. While we went around the block to her bus stop, we figured out that her ultimate destination was on the other side of Lake Washington, right near my house, so I told her I'd take her the whole way. We chatted about our lives, our families, her injury, African safaris, and I'll never see her again. Or perhaps I will, but I'd have a hard time recollecting where I knew her from. It was just a moment, like any other moment, when I made a choice. In Underground Time, the entire book builds up to just one of those moments, and I'm confident in saying that the ending will not satisfy a majority of readers, but it satisfied me. Then again, I'm someone who quite enjoys when a book punches me in the stomach.

I wish I knew French so I could read this novel in its original language. Even so, the translation is wonderfully descript. Though not overly flowery, the book is filled with metaphors and turns of phrase just so perfectly apt that I found myself repeatedly impressed:

"So a moment must come when she'll wake up, when she'll grasp the division between reality and sleep, and realise that that is all this was: a long nightmare. When she'll experience the intense relief that follows the return to consciousness, even if her heart is still beating fit to explode, even if she is bathed in sweat in her darkened bedroom. A moment when she will be free." (211)

This was 4/5 stars for me. I think it will appeal to anyone who likes to read about the bleaker aspects of life, people who enjoy French literature, anyone who may or may not daydream about murdering their horrible boss, and people who like imagining what would happen if you stopped to talk to that person on the subway.

This was my first pick for our Readventurer feature, Library Quest, where we (and guest posters) pick books from the library that we've never heard of to read and review in the quest to find some hidden treasure. ( )
  FlanneryAC | Mar 31, 2013 |
This was a light read, in spite of treating issues of lonliness and isolation. The writer gives us two parallel stories: Mathilde, who is being bullied and harrassed at her job, and Thibault, who has just broken up with a woman he loves because she doesn't love him. As we follow them through a single day, we see they have similar thoughts and perspectives. We can't help but think they would be perfect for each other!


Mathilde and Thibault don't meet, and that is certainly the more realistic scenario in modern life in a crowded city. But, it was not a satisfactory ending. Although probably a better one, as a meeting would have relegated this book to "chick lit" status. I think the author didn't find the right balance between her writing style and her plot. To be fair, something may have been lost in translation. So, overall, this book was okay, but not as good (or bad) as it could have been. ( )
  LynnB | Feb 21, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Somewhat enjoyed this story about 2 lost-soul contemporaries living separate yet, in ways, similar lives in present-day Paris. Underground Time is a very quick read, and like reading 2 parallel stories in one novel. I must say, though, that one of the characters' situation is so egregious and frustrating (the way the character handles/responds to it as well as the situation itself), that I did start to dread the chapters involving that character, and wished the whole book could be about the other one, who I found very interesting, intriguing, and endearing. Ahhh well. ( )
  tsaj | Dec 28, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
It may not be the intention, but these two strangers feel far from lost causes as they crisscross Paris over 24 hours, contemplating their limited options. Yes, in an ideal world fate would bring them together and they would save each other. That it doesn't happen is irksome, to say the least. But as this elegantly constructed, sympathetic, compelling, enjoyable novel draws to a close, you would be hard pressed to think these two are going under.
Delphine de Vigan is a sensation
added by laurakozasvili | editObserver
I read this book with increasing admiration foe Delphine de Vigan's elegant writing style; her astute observations; her perceptive grasp of the complexity of human nature; the vivid backdrop of Paris in all its moods; and the compelling story of the erosion of a poised and confident woman
added by laurakozasvili | editAuthor of The Man Who Disappeared, Clare Morrall
What's most startling about this novel is how de Vigan makes the mundane come alive. She's an expert in detail, charging even the most ordinary situation with emotion, which makes for a massively affecting read
added by laurakozasvili | editPsychologies
Sympathetic, compelling, enjoyable
added by laurakozasvili | editGuardian
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On voit de toutes petites choses qui luisent/Ce sont des gens dans des chemises/Comme durant ces siecles de la longue nuit/Dans le silence et dans le bruit -- Comme un Lego, Gerard Manset
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Book description
Every day Mathilde takes the Metro to the office of a large multinational where she works in the marketing department. Mathilde is unhappy at work - not long ago she dared to voice a different opinion from that of her moody boss, and bit by bit has found herself frozen out of office life.

Every day paramedic Thibault drives to the addresses he receives by radio phone from head office. Thibault is unhappy in love and spends each day fighting his way through the Paris traffic - he is aware that he may be the only human being many of the people he visits will see for the entire day.

As they crisscross Paris one day in early summer, though both feel themselves to be anonymous figures in a crowd, pushed and shoved and pressured by the demanding city, surely a meeting must be inevitable.
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"Everyday Mathilde takes the Metro, then the commuter train to the office of a large multi-national where she works in the marketing department. Every day, the same routine, the same trains. But something happened a while ago - she dared to voice a different opinion from her moody boss, Jacques. Bit by bit she finds herself frozen out of everything, with no work to do. Thibault is a paramedic. Every day he drives to the addresses he receives from his controller. The city spares him no grief: traffic jams, elusive parking spaces, delivery trucks blocking his route. He is well aware that he may be the only human being many of the people he visits will see for the entire day and is well acquainted with the symptomatic illnesses, the major disasters, the hustle and bustle and, of course, the immense, pervading loneliness of the city. Before one day in May, Mathilde and Thibault had never met. They were just two anonymous figures in a crowd, pushed and shoved and pressured continuously by the loveless, urban world. Underground Time is a novel of quiet violence - the violence of office-bullying, the violence of the brutality of the city - in which our two characters move towards an inevitable meeting"--… (more)

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