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The Underground Man

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  967 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews
The Underground Man offers a humorous portrait of the fifth Duke of Portland, a wealthy, eccentric nineteenth-century nobleman who constructed a vast network of underground tunnels from which he could escape to the world outside.
Published (first published 1997)
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Doug Young Arguable to use "paranormal" per se, but it could be applied at a stretch, I suppose. Maybe a little more mystical or transcendental, but to call it…moreArguable to use "paranormal" per se, but it could be applied at a stretch, I suppose. Maybe a little more mystical or transcendental, but to call it paranormal would perhaps be misleading for potential readers. (less)
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Essie Fox
Nov 30, 2011 Essie Fox rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh my - I am entirely in love with this book - or should I say with the main character and narrator: an eccentric, lonely, old Victorian duke who is viewed with a tolerant yet kindly exasperation by those servants and villagers with whom he interacts (from time to time their own views are exposed in 'asides' or short chapters where they seem to be recalling him after his death).

The duke is obsessed with nature and science, his curious mind almost like that of a child as he sets off on whimsical
Upgrading this one from three and a half to a full four star after meditating on the boundaries between fact and fiction and how to judge the one and the other (see discussion below).

A strange story of eccentricity, wealth and one man’s descent into madness. The Underground Man is by turns lyrical, comic and then tragic.

I had very mixed emotions about this one and it’s not for everyone. I admired the artistry, the poetic descriptions, the deft interweaving of His Grace’s diary with testimony fr
Jul 29, 2009 Kinga rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england, mad-men, odd
I got this book from my library because it said it was nominated for Booker Prize and I just wanted some real literature and not the fluff that my library offer consists of mostly.
Then I found out it was about a weirdo who digs up tunnels.
When I started reading it I realised the said weirdo is also the narrator so I would have to struggle through 260 pages of his ramblings.
I thought "Oh no, what have I got myself into?" - being obsessive-compulsive as I am I just need to finish every book I star
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This was a book I didn't care to finish. It was a little too odd and too long. Maybe I'd have stuck with it if it was odd and short. I did copy one good passage from it before letting it go.

"I have always been very fond of dogs. Cats have much too high an opinion of themselves and generally make for poor company. Are, on the whole, utterly humorless and always wrapped up in their own thoughts. Some days I reckon all cats are spies. Dogs, on the other hand, are reassuringly foolish and always ga


I have no idea how an apple tree works. The quiet machine beneath the bark is quite beyond my ken.

How complimentary this is to my last non-fic read 'The Head Gardeners'!

Later: this was just a little too whacky for my taste. Maybe I'll have another bash at it someday, when I have more of a Goon Show head on.
Sep 16, 2012 Dianah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dianah by: Kate
Based on the real life of William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland, The Underground Man explores the psychology behind an eccentric, reclusive man, who is just a bit too delicate to navigate society. Wellbeck Abbey, his grand castle in Nottinghamshire, became well known for its maze of tunnels running in all directions underneath the castle grounds. However, the tunnels were only a part of his manic push to build an underground space. Employing thousands of men over many years ...more
Mar 19, 2013 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. What a strange, poetic, and (dare I say?) hopeful little book! As the eccentric Duke of Portland enters the last year of his life, he struggles with the degeneration of his body and mind. With a childlike curiosity, he follows his research wherever it will take him... This book of a sweet, smart, and probably crazy old man's precipitous decline would just be horribly sad if told from anyone else's point of view (even an omniscient narrator's) but since we're locked inside the Duke's skull, ...more
Feb 15, 2012 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't enjoy this book. I know that I didn't enjoy it because I could only read 20-30 pages at a time and fell asleep whilst reading it more than once. I find this very upsetting because I really thought I was going to love it. Everything about it appealed to me; the story of a mad Duke building a labyrinth of tunnels under his huge, sprawling estate to escape from a dark secret that haunts him, the cover of the book, OH the cover, is so gorgeous and sepia and steampunk and creepy and, lastly, ...more
Vit Babenco
Jan 04, 2015 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Where does eccentricity end and madness begin?
“So, perhaps every creature carries inside it a living flame – a modest candlepower. If, for some reason, the flame falters, the creature's existence is put at risk. But if our inner flame flares up and engulfs us, madness is the result.”
The main hero has an exceptionally inquisitive mind but he applies it in the strangest ways.
It is better to be ultimately antic than to be a penultimate nonentity.
“We are not, as I had feared, simply a camera obscura
The Super Moop
Apr 17, 2010 The Super Moop rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this a few weeks ago on the strength of the cover picture (which I fell in love with instantly), and what little information I could glean from the blurb at the back (which wasn't very much at all).

I'd never heard of this Mick Jackson before, and I certainly know nothing of the life and doings of the particular Duke of Portland who (very loosely) forms the basis for the central character of this novel. This means that, for the first time in a very long time, I've had to approach a book
Mar 19, 2012 Fiona rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love it love it love it!

I had Jim Broadbent in my mind as the Duke!

It's simply marvellous. Jackson writes (in my opinion, at least) so very well and I simply could not put the book down.

The fact blended with fiction, the intrigue as to what indeed was the truth. There were so many laugh-out-loud moments. Truly is a book I'd read again – and I rarely read a book twice now. Too many others to go at!

Whether you're familiar with the area and the history or not, you can't help but be enticed by this
Aug 02, 2007 Kay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this singular account is drawn largely from the (fictional) journals of the Duke of Portland, a historical personage in early Victorian times. Among his many eccentricities, the Duke was most noted for creating miles and miles of underground passages throughout his estate. He traveled only by subterranean passage, even while riding by coach. (Obviously, he was a man of considerable means.)

Jackson's book creates a vivid portrait of a striking eccentric, a man of
Jun 27, 2010 Gina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I bought this book about five years ago, so I thought it was about time I got around to reading it. It turned out to be a very fun and funny book, but by the end it felt like just a wee bit too much of a good thing. You can only read so much about the ailments (real and imagined) of the elderly before it gets old.

His Grace is a wonderful character, though. In some ways he reminded me of J. Ignatius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces. They were both hypochondriacs and completely bonkers, but Hi
Debra Watkins
Dec 18, 2011 Debra Watkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the fact that this novel is actually loosely based on the life of the 5th Duke of Portland (William Cavendish-Scott-Bendinck) I could not help but place Nigel Hawthorne in my mind as I read each chapter (he portrayed King George III in the movie "The Madness of King George"). The slow decline and increased eccentricity of the Duke in this novel is almost deliciously enjoyable, so rich is Mick Jackson's narrative. He describes tasks such as taking a bath, getting lost in the woods, his in ...more
Graham Salisbury
An astonishing debut novel!

Poignant, melancholic, Gothic and endearing are but a few of the multitude of words that could be applied to this captivating book.

The weaving together of the story from a number of narrators creates a thoroughly believable portrait of a lonely, reclusive Victorian misfit and eccentric.

It's significant that in addition to a developing career as a novelist, Mick Jackson has written and directed several short films. At times you could be forgiven for thinking that you
Amy Jane
Nov 10, 2014 Amy Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
This came recommended by a very good friend and book recommender, and I have to admit it was better than I expected. So unlike anything else I have read, and the only novel to make me laugh out loud several times. The by end I was very fond of the Duke, the protagonist of the book, and found his 'madness' not only endearing but totally relatable. No storyline as such but very enjoyable read.
An eccentric novel to match it's subject, beautifully written but I found it a struggle to get to the end.
Aug 09, 2011 Lorna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Utterly brilliant. Laugh out loud funny, very engaging, beautifully written - and I gasped out loud on the train at the gothic twist towards the end. Highly recommended.
I enjoyed this book, it's a delightful story and now I want to read more about this slightly nutty Duke.
Erica Mangin
The writing is amazing. The character portrayal brilliant. A very enjoyable and quirky read.
Nov 21, 2016 Dennis rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a book which starts in the middle of nowhere and finishes like the writer ran out of ideas; that is to say that it had no real plotline, just a string of incidents and then the string ran out. I'm not a great fan of books about "lovable nitwits" or eccentric aristocracy, nor do I care much about how they got that way; the book is rather sketchy about the duke's past and a last-minute attempt to explain why he was how he was fell flat, in my opinion because it had a sense of being tossed ...more
Aug 11, 2011 Elena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Литературный обзор романа Мика Джексона "Подземный человек": Роман (пер. с англ. Самохова С.)

С именем Уильяма Джона Кавендиша Бентинка Скотта, 5-го Герцога Портлендского (1800-1879) связано множество мифов, забавных и скандальных историй, фактов, легенд, домыслов и даже суеверий. Любой британец при упоминании этого имени произнесет первое ключевое слово - "туннели". Именно "туннели", во множественном числе, так как при жизни Герцог прорыл от своей резиденции Велбек Эбби (Welbeck Abbey) в графст
Sep 11, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Portrait of an eccentric -- The Underground Man is an extended vignette of an exceedingly interesting and wealthy British Duke, William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, fifth Duke of Portland, who is portrayed against a background dominated by his interest (obsession) with the contrasts between man and nature, order and disorder, and ultimately, the nature of the real versus the supernatural. He is a prodigious eccentric best known for the elaborate network of tunnels he built beneath his estate. ...more
Dec 15, 2016 Ginny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How endearing. How sad.
Jacob Overmark
Det er her tvivlen sætter ind, hvordan skal værket bedømmes...
Absolut velskrevet og en, efter min bedømmelse, udmærket oversættelse.
Men, de kendte facts om Den 5. Hertug af Portland berettiger ikke helt til forfatterens fabuleren om hovedpersonens mentale tilstand. På den måde kommer hovedpersonen til at virke som en statist i et forfatterskab der synes mere baseret på fascinationen af excentricitetens natur.
Nuvel, en roman skal have en basis og Den 5. Hertug af Portland var afgjort både excent
Apr 05, 2015 Luke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jackson's Booker-shortlisted book is a real gem. It's a strange amalgam of fictionalised history, memoir and gothic horror - gothic body horror, come to that.

It takes its genesis in the life of William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland, but rapidly diverges from the accepted record. Using a combination of diary entries and testimonies or statements, the mole-like additions to his home at Welbeck Abbey are described, as is his increasing infirmity. There's a lovely turn of phrase in
The Underground Man has sentences which seem like Booker-Prize-bait -- little well-crafted nuggets of ingenuity -- sprinkled liberally throughout, so it's not really surprising it was short-listed. However, despite having likable characters and some very smart musings on aging, impermanence, and sanity, the book nevertheless doesn't quite seem to know what to do with its plot. The buildup in the narrative suggests that we're going to get some earth-shattering "reveal" at the end, but the revelat ...more
Aug 15, 2012 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
I loved every minute I spent with the Duke in this weird, lovely book. He's a singular eccentric in the grand old English tradition-- curious, erudite, gentle, kind, and distinctly odd. Most of the book catalogs the Duke's waning days spent walking around his estate, wondering about the processes of nature and the human body, mind, and spirit. A hypochondriac, the Duke seeks out a number of variably effective cures, and these encounters, with spiritualist mediums, chiropractors, and phrenologist ...more
Jul 26, 2015 Ali rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub-read
An article titled Britain's best underground attractions says of Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire -

William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (1800-79), was the eccentric owner of Welbeck Abbey. Living as a recluse in a small suite of rooms in the massive abbey, he employed a team of hundreds of workmen to excavate a series of underground rooms. They include a 53 m (174 ft) long ballroom and a 76 m (250 ft) long library, along with a series of tunnels claimed to be wide
Feb 06, 2013 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based upon the life of William John Cavendish Bentinck-Scott, fifth Duke of Portland, an introverted but kind hearted eccentric from 19th century middle England. Rather surprisingly for me given the novel’s title and the fact that it’s one of the three main threads of the story that is actually based on (quite extraordinary) fact, the book only fairly lightly covers the ideas behind, design, building and use of the extensive tunneling under the family estate before centring around a couple of in ...more
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Mick Jackson (born 1960) is a British writer from England, best known for his novel The Underground Man (1997). The book, based on the life of William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and for the 1997 Whitbread Award for best first novel.

Mick Jackson was born in 1960, in Great Harwood, Lancashire, and educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar Sch
More about Mick Jackson...

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“Deprived of our memories we are deprived of our very selves. Without our histories we are vacated. We may walk and talk and eat and sleep but, in truth, we are nobody.” 2 likes
“Old age is but the reduced capacity of a failing machine.” 1 likes
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