Underground

I may have mentioned Tobias Hill in an earlier post but since then have read his first published novel. The title of "Underground" works on two levels, it is both the London Underground and a more murky underground in the past; a subteranian incident from our protagonist's childhood.  It could even be argued that the sub-plot from childhood is using the term "underground" in another sense, the one of the shadey dealer who is not legitimate.

The writing is probably even more strikingly original than it was for "The Cryptographer" which I have already mentioned (see that earlier post of mine).  I especially enjoyed the way we are given to understand the attraction between the feral female who he finds inhabiting the underground and the subsequent play on our emotioons when we discover she is not all we might have hoped for.  But this plot development is entirely necessary in the context.

And it is this context, one of childhood and the abuse that can occur there, both from monstrous parents and from others who are not parents but perhaps even more monstrous, it is this which forms the actual "meat" of the novel.  I truly loved the way these issues are explored tangentially and yet the plot remains one of a gripping thriller which accelerates towards the ending with a born and assured gifted writers natural grace of expression.

There is a new person in my life, and she suffers a degenerative eye condition ( retinitis pigmentosa) which means that her vision is already severaly compromised and will eventually fail entirely.  Although at the time of reading I was not thinking about this, with the benefit of hindsight I am finding all sorts of resonances with that.  He seems to find both loneliness and comfort in the darkness.  He wants to be alone and at the same time recognises it as a special quality, and not necessarily a healthy one.  I think it is no accident that the flourescent light which is his only source of illumination at times is coming from a watch his father gave him as a boy, one which incidentally bore the image of Stalin's head on the watchface.  Many times in the story being in the absolute darkness of the underground, be it a mineshaft or a train tunnel, is used as a great way to sharpen our sense of danger or even perhaps to enhance the erotic.  These moments in the writing are used as springboards for us to speculate or join with the protagnoist exploring emotional issues.  he is clearly profoundly affected as a young man both by his mother abandoning him (and his father) and by his subsequent perception of his father as a monster whom he in turn abandons when he leaves the country and comes to London.

All of these observations can only be made after completely reading the novel - and many of them only after a little time to digest it.  So I fully recommend this fine first novel to anyone who chances upon this post in my blog.  And if anyone can comment and add their own opinions, well that too is most welcome!