Underground Time

Underground Time

by Delphine de Vigan

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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


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?

Delphine de Vigan tells this story of urban isolation with poetic precision and resilient humor, in the much lauded follow-up to her bestselling No and Me.

Praise for No and Me:

"Thought-provoking and often poetic musings about No's life challenge readers to rethink their responsibilities to humankind…Quiet yet gripping."-Kirkus Reviews

"All ages will find much to relish in this deceptively simple tale that is touching and enlightening." -Herald (Scotland)

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
De Vigan (No and Me) pursues two doomed characters in their Parisian isolation with her second novel, but treats them with more coldness than empathy. When a clairvoyant predicts that her life will change “on the twentieth of May,” Mathilde, once her boss’s right-hand woman, is steadily relieved of her responsibilities and ostracized at work after having what she thought was a polite disagreement in a business meeting. While Mathilde desperately hopes for an explanation for this banishment, she stubbornly clings to the job that supports her and her three children. Meanwhile, young EMT Thibault contemplates the emptiness of his life as he drives his emergency medical rounds. Thibault separated from his latest girlfriend because he felt no connection to her and left a thriving country practice (losing his dream of becoming a surgeon), but now questions why he wanted to come to Paris in the first place. De Vigan moves these two lost souls around their métro, boulot, dodo days, from arrondissements to numbing office corridors, as they lose themselves further and further in moody self-reflection, a tenor that de Vigan holds but doesn’t escalate, until a vague conclusion confirms that her characters are more philosophical construct than flesh and blood. (Dec.)
From the Publisher

“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

Library Journal
Mathilde and Thibault, strangers to each other, experience deep misery as they navigate the soul-sucking crush of daily life in Paris. After a long run as a talented marketing executive, Mathilde, a 40-year-old widow with three young sons, is systematically being destroyed by her boss (and former mentor), whose bullying escalates as the weeks go by. Thibault, a traveling paramedic who has just dumped his emotionless lover, finds no solace as he battles traffic congestion to visit the homes of invisible citizens who have fallen off society's radar. De Vigan's gift for unvarnished and beautifully described angst builds unbearably as the two characters cling to hope and sanity, believing that their salvation can only come in the form of a perfect lover. VERDICT De Vigan romanticizes absolutely nothing in this sharply observed study of the suffocating trap of urban hopelessness. She shows no mercy to her readers, who will find themselves gritting their teeth and hoping that Mathilde's and Thibault's bottomless suffering will be cured by the too-oft-used magical meet-up and happy ending. Instead, this masterly author, winner of France's 2008 Prix des Libraires for No and Me, throws a curveball that all sophisticated readers will want to catch. [See Prepub Alert, 5/23/11.]—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
A prizewinner and bestseller in France, de Vigan (No and Me, 2010, etc.) is a master of the spare (and of despair) in this brief novel about two unhappy Parisians who may or may not be destined to meet. The novel takes place during a single day, May 20, when a psychic has told widowed mother of three Mathilde that she will meet a man. Although her corporate job has become a nightmare since her supervisor Jacques turned against her months earlier after she mildly disagreed with him in front of others, Mathilde starts the day excited that something new is going to happen. She even laughs with her children, a moment that becomes more poignant in memory as her day falls apart. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Paris, Thibault, who has given up a safe suburban GP practice to be a traveling emergency doctor (his job does not quite translate in the U.S.), starts the day by breaking up with his unloving girlfriend, then makes his medical service calls in a mood that swings between rage and despair. When a woman falls at the metro station Mathilde helps her. Thibault is called but arrives just after Mathilde has left. Late getting to work, Mathilde discovers Jacques has moved her out of her office into a humiliating spot near the men's room and has stripped her of all of her responsibilities. She and Jacques both know she cannot be fired, but he continues to ratchet up his campaign to make her work life increasingly miserable to the point of unbearable. As Mathilde wanders through the Kafkaesque corporate labyrinth, trying to find an escape from Jacque's reach, Thibault drives the city streets overwhelmed by an exhausting caseload of patients whose lives have shriveled into hopelessness. Will these two ever meet? You'll have to read the book to find out. This is ultimately a corporate horror story--often claustrophobic to the point of oppressive, but undeniably disturbing.

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.58(w) x 8.42(h) x 0.76(d)

Meet 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 Garçons and Soir de décembre. 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.

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