The Underground Man
by Mike Jackson
Category: Fiction / General
268 pages; ISBN: 0330349562
Rating: 8/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Nigel Utting
Set in the late 1800s and written entirely in the first person (although from the view of several different characters) The Underground Man is loosely based on the fifth Duke of Portland, William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott. Whilst some books start firmly in historical character but then wander from their aim as the story progresses, Jackson`s portrayal of the Victorian Duke never wavers.
The central themes of the book are the construction of a series of subterranean tunnels which radiate from beneath the 'big house' to the extremities of the estate; and the Duke`s increasing insecurity, his life being permeated by a feeling of emptiness, by an absence which he cannot quantify.
An interesting sub-theme is the dual nature of the Duke`s relationship with his household staff: one the one hand he is their employer and social superior in terms of the rigid hierarchy of those times; whilst on the other he is as dependent upon their services and cooperation for food and physical comforts as though he were a child.
The nature of and reason for the emptiness in the Duke`s life gradually unwinds, much like his sanity, and the book builds to a satisfying if sudden conclusion. A man surprisingly willing to admit his failings, the Duke contemplates an apple tree and muses "Oh, how wonderful to be an apple tree - to know one`s place in the world. To be both fixed and fruitful. To know what one is about."
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