Review “Underground” by Tobias Hill

This is an unsettling book. I finished reading it a few weeks back but it has taken me to now to be able to lay down my thoughts. There’s something intriguing about it which is hard to pinpoint.

The blurb on the cover hints at a tight paced thriller, whose plot centers on a series of murders which are taking place on the London Underground.

What unravels though, is more the story of Casimir, a young Polish immigrant living in London and haunted both by his harsh childhood and his unspoken Jewish identity.

Casimir leads a lonely and spartan existence in London and seems to make use of the dark labyrinth of the Underground as some sort of sanctuary – a place where he can hide away from the world, enveloped in a secret, hidden existence.

A chance meeting with a homeless girl living in an abandoned station proves cathartic however, and as Casimir develops his relationship with her, the reader comes to learn more and more about the life in Poland that he is trying to come to terms with.

Running parallel to this is the murder mystery, an aspect of the novel that keeps the story moving along, but which is also very much secondary to the plot (contrary to what the cover blurb says).

The novel’s evocative language certainly captures the sense of being out of place in a large, foreign metropolis. The anonymity, the loneliness, the coldness are all very clearly rendered, in a sharp, matter of fact and unsentimental way. You are always left with the sense that Casimir is separate from the city in some sense. An observer rather than an inhabitant.

Indeed, it is only underground that he seems to feel a sense of familiarity, of comfort and belonging (a feeling that seems to stem from the memory of a childhood discovery of an abandonded mine shaft.)

This is a book about hiding and discovery, about revelations and retreats. A sad and unsettling tale that is beautifully told.

Take the time to adjust to the style and the shifts in the storyline. It’s worth it.

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