The Underground Man

The Underground Man

3.75 (997 ratings by Goodreads)
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The fifth Duke of Portland is a Victorian misfit, man who spends his time and wealth creating a network of tunnels beneath his Nottinghamshire estate. As he withdraws further from society he falls prey to his lonely self-absorption and to the mercy of his household staff. His rare appearances are misinterpreted and local gossip has inflated his eccentricities into sinister deformities. No one, not even he, understands his most persistent ache, a pain of absence that no amount of tunnelling or searching can bring to light. The Duke's slow piecing together of the truth about his past builds to an intensely moving and powerful conclusion. 'The narrative structure is immaculate, the characterization superb, the prose so polished you can see your face in it' Max Davidson, Daily Telegraph 'Soaked through with originality and expertly written: tragicomic fiction with the most endearingly sympathetic of anti-heroes' Dominic Bradbury, The Times 'A remarkable balancing act, witty, restrained and shot through with interesting tensions. As a first novel it is, quite simply, astonishing' Christina Patterson, Observer 'A strong narrative drive, a Gothic twist and a wonderful cast of secondary characters make this an entrancingly readable book. What lifts it into the prize-deserving category is Jackson's uncannily visual prose' Miranda Seymour, Sunday Telegraphshow more

Product details

  • Paperback | 272 pages
  • 130 x 192 x 20mm | 181.44g
  • Pan MacMillan
  • London, United Kingdom
  • 0330349562
  • 9780330349567
  • 724,132

Review Text

An ingenious, sympathetic (though somewhat claustrophobic) fictional exploration of the odd life and peculiar obsessions of William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, the fifth Duke of Portland (1800-79), and one of the great Victorian eccentrics. Jackson's debut novel takes some of what is known of the Duke's life, in addition to folktales about him that still circulate in his native Nottinghamshire, and adds a considerable amount of invention to create the portrait of a bright, hopelessly baffled figure, struggling to carry out the hereditary obligations of his office while sinking deeper and deeper into a hypochondriacal frenzy. The exceedingly wealthy Duke is best remembered for having created a series of vast tunnels - each wide enough to allow a coach-and-tour to pass through - leading to his home, to allow him to come and go without being watched by the neighbors. Jackson adds to that actual occurrence an obsession with health - and a desperate fear of the impermanence of life - that drive the Duke to ever wilder attempts to regain well-being. He besieges a number of doctors, convinced that he is exhibiting hideous symptoms of illness and decay, and visits a variety of healers, including spiritualist sisters and a "bone manipulator." All of this is narrated in the first person, as the Duke sets down in his journal a running commentary on the state of his body and on his confusing encounters with the world. There's much here that is sharp and winning: Jackson's re-creation of the Duke's voice - querulous and exact - and of the voices of his many baffled, indulgent retainers. His portrait, through the Duke's eyes, of an age poised between credulity and science is shrewd and fascinating. But a little of the Duke goes a long way. Jackson's excavation of a damaged, self-absorbed figure finally becomes somewhat wearying. Still, there's enough vigor and imagination here to suggest the emergence of a lively new talent. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

997 ratings
3.75 out of 5 stars
5 25% (252)
4 38% (374)
3 27% (272)
2 8% (76)
1 2% (23)
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