by Robert Macfarlane
Hailed as “the great nature writer of this generation” (Wall Street Journal), Robert Macfarlane is the celebrated author of books about the intersections of the human and the natural realms. In Underland, he delivers his masterpiece: an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself.
In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. “Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.”
Global in its geography and written with great lyricism and power, Underland speaks powerfully to our present moment. Taking a deep-time view of our planet, Macfarlane here asks a vital and unsettling question: “Are we being good ancestors to the future Earth?” Underland marks a new turn in Macfarlane’s long-term mapping of the relations of landscape and the human heart. From its remarkable opening pages to its deeply moving conclusion, it is a journey into wonder, loss, fear, and hope. At once ancient and urgent, this is a book that will change the way you see the world.
I think Underland is not the sort of book I would generally pick up and it’s a pity that I wouldn’t. This book is both magical and haunting at once, the claustrophobia you can feel is as real as if you were trapped in a cave all alone. I don’t think I have ever read something like this and sure it might not have felt as the best start (because the writing does take a bit to get used to) but trust me when I say that this is something everyone should be reading.
I am a dreamer of long travels across the globe and I wish I was half as well-travelled as the author because the sort of feelings this book brought out in me can only be explained as a sort of envy mixed in with relief. I doubt I would ever brave the underground as he fearlessly seems to do, this is something I wish I could experience but also I am glad that I haven’t, if that makes any sense at all. (I doubt it really does.)
The writing is exquisite and just so damn engaging. I had a rough week while I was reading this, didn’t get enough time to read it at a long stretch but trust me when I say that I savoured each and every minute I got to read more of this. The way he talks about certain places holding memories made me think of where I live and what sort of things the earth has seen in its long life. I am not really the sort to think of things like that so when I did, I had a few uncomfortable feelings. Of the good kind, I suppose.
This book doesn’t just talk about the sort of mark humans are leaving behind but it also makes us question what are we leaving behind individually? I rarely think of something like that so when this book made me think of that, I was glad. The writing is sublime, the topics pretty hard and a bit scary and sad but at the end, you are left with this wonder and hope that’s hard to explain.
I am so grateful that NetGalley and Penguin Books UK granted me approve to read this ahead of its publication, unfortunately due to real life, this got pushed forward.