Sunday, 28 February 2010

Book Review: The Underground Man - Mick Jackson

To celebrate the 200th review on Books, Time, and Silence, I will be re-posting 10 of my favourite reviews. 

As day 5 ticks into day 6 I revisit one of the most charming books I have had the pleasure to read: Underground Man by Mick Jackson.

Read: June 2008
The Underground Man in one tweet-sized chunk
A book to fall in love with and remind you how great literature can be.

"As a young man I imagined growing old would be something like the feeling one has at the close of a long and satisfying day: a not unpleasant lassitude, always remedied by a good night’s sleep. But I now know it to be the gradual revelation of one’s body as nothing more than a bag of unshakeable aches. Old age is but the reduced capacity of a failing machine. Even my sleep – that beautiful oblivion always relied upon for replenishment – now seems to founder, has somehow lost its step. My fingers and toes are cold the whole year round, as if my fire is slowly going out."

The Underground Man
is one of those uncomplicated, absolutely charming novels which you wish you could read all the time. Mick Jackson writes with the brevity and technical acumen of a literary master like J.M. Coetzee, and the warm-hearted sensitivity of a loved childhood author such as Michael Morpurgo. It is an absolutely fantastic novel.

An old, reclusive Duke has just completed the construction of a series of tunnels under his vast estate. For what purpose, he is not entirely sure. Probably because he has never felt entirely comfortable around people. He is inordinately wealthy but getting on in years, without an heir to take over the estate when he passes. Many of the staff he has lived with throughout his life are beginning to get a little old as well. It is all rather depressing. And yet his imagination appears to know no bounds. As he searches for an explanation for the malaise that seems to be engulfing him he begins to retreat further and further underground, into the heart of his family estate, and the memories which dwell there. A strange young boy seems to be floating around him, and there are memories which demand to be noticed.
Loosly based on the life of the 5th Duke of Portland, William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck who really did build a network of tunnels under his estate, Jackson brings the Duke's eccentric mind dazzlingly to life. He ponders how apple trees work, whether his insides are colour-coded, what happens to all the huge whale bones at the bottom of the ocean. He is lovable, thoroughly original and oh so sympathetic. One can't help but love him. Indeed, I can’t think of a character I have wanted to take under my wing and care for more than the Duke.

There is virtually no plot, just the delightfully eccentric and amusing mind of the Duke, as he dallies through life and slowly descends into madness. I've never met anyone who has anything bad to say about this book. It is one of the best Booker shortlisted books I have ever read. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

9 out of 10

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