Saturday, January 7, 2012

Underground Time, by Delphine de Vigan

Underground Time focuses on one day--May 20--in the lives of two Parisians. Mathilde is a single mother of three boys, who pulled herself out of the abyss following her husband's death by building a career as the deputy to the marketing director at an international consulting firm. Eight months ago, however, she dared to disagree with her boss, who has gradually isolated her, stripping her of responsibility and using his power to make her a "nonperson" in their department. Mathilde is breaking down under the pressure, but she clings to the irrational hope that something good will happen on May 20, as predicted by a psychic.

Thibault is a doctor who works for an emergency service. That morning, he has broken up with his lover, Lila, who "just isn't programmed to fall in love with him." As Thibault drives his car through the morass of traffic in Paris, tending to the sick and lonely, he, too feels his isolation as nearly unbearable.

As the two go through their days, feeling ever more alienation, the reader's sense of dread builds. You begin to wonder if their paths will cross and hope that they might somehow save each other.

Underground Time is a moving exploration of how a person's sense of self can be eroded. It is beautifully written; I often find translated works to have an emotional flatness, but that is certainly not the case with this fine book translated by George Miller.

Favorite passages:
She's often thought that shes' passed on to her children a kind of gaiety, a talent for joy. She's often thought that she has nothing more important to offer them than her laugh, beyond the infinite chaos of the world.

She strokes their sleep-crumpled faces and breathes in their smell. In the creases of their necks the arrangement of her own life seems simple to her.

His life is here. Even though none of it fools him. Not the music that comes through windows, nor the illuminated signs, nor the bursts of voices around television sets on evenings when there's football on. Even if he has known for a long time that the singular trumps the plural and how fragile conjunctions are.

What kind of adult do you become if you have discovered at such an early age that life can collapse? What kind of person? What does it equip you with? What are you missing?

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