Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Robert Macfarlane’s Underland is, at times, raw and dark. You spend time in unfamiliar, claustrophobic and inhospitable places and when you return you are likely to return a different person.
This book took Macfarlane ten years to write and the journeys he goes on in order to bring this writing to us are often unenviable.
Here’s the blurb:
Ten years in the making, Underland is his enthralling record of journeys deep into the worlds beneath our feet. From the burial grounds of the Mendip Hills to the hidden catacombs of Paris, and further, to the deep blue, ancient ice of Greenland, Macfarlane explores - through myth, memory and experience – our most feared and venerated spaces of loss, discovery and deep time.
Blending personal memoir, travelogue and nature writing, infused with a powerful ability to read the essential messages about our changing planet and our place within it embedded in the very ground we walk upon, Underland is an astonishing and unforgettable book. Written with lyricism, power and prescience, it brings together the ancient and the urgent in a revelatory examination of an unseen and essential netherworld.
Macfarlane’s writing style is as erudite and poetic as always, giving you a fly-on-the-wall experience of caving, mountaineering, potholing and crawling through catacombs. He reminds of the history that these places hold, some of it echoing with the darkest times humans have seen.
He shows us the places where humans have painted dancing figures in caves thousands of years ago and where sinkholes have been used for abominable war crimes, not as long ago as our memories might like. He also shows us the joy the landscape can bring and the light in the dark that surfaces when you least expect it.
This is a book to be savoured, to be read, put aside, processed and read again. It is not a book that can be consumed in one sitting. Instead it must be given the space and respect that a book ten years in the making requires. If you haven’t read any of Macfarlane’s work before then you might want to start with something a little lighter, like ’The Old Ways’, but if like me you are fascinated and deeply drawn to the way humans connect with the landscape, then at some point, you are going to need to read this book. It will change your perspective on what is above and below.
You can buy Rob Macfarlane’s, ‘Underland’ in all good bookshops. If you would like to buy a copy online, please consider visiting my page on Bookshop.org where I have gathered some of the books I read and recommend. Here you will find a plethora of myth, legend and folktale.
And don’t forget to support your local library too. See if they have a copy to borrow.