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Underland: A Book Review


I have to admit that my to-be-read pile is ever-growing, no matter how many books I manage to finish. That's due at least in part to the fact that, when I discover a writer whose work I enjoy, I want to read more of their titles. Case in point: Robert Macfarlane.


I don't remember who recommended his book Landmarks to me - possibly Nimue Brown, though often I find myself directed to great books by multiple people at once, a telling sign that I can't ignore. Whoever made the recommendation, reading Landmarks led me to The Old Ways, which led to my current read: Underland: A Deep Time Journey.


It is a journey indeed. Macfarlane's poetic language manages to be both straightforward and gloriously layered at the same time, leading the reader into the underground of the Earth and the human psyche, tangling and untangling the threads that connect us with our physical and non-physical existence. To say I found the book grounding is probably a bit clichéd, but it's the truth.


To write the book, Macfarlane journeyed to the underneath sides of sites in Britain, continental Europe, Scandinavia, and Greenland: caves, catacombs, mines, burial chambers, ice canyons. Some of the expeditions were dangerous; all of them were powerful. Reflecting his experiences on these journeys, his writing is profoundly human: visceral and sometimes gritty but also uplifting, offering a sense that who we are in relationship with the Earth is sacred, and to lose that connection is to profane our very existence.


I recommend all Macfarlane's books - at least, all the ones I've read so far, and I have no doubt the others are just as good. They're all on the ever-growing TBR list. But I think Underland may be an even better - or more medicinal - read right now than his other titles. Given that we're being forced to look at the dark underside of our own culture this year, maybe Underland can give us some ideas for viewing the darkness in new ways and transforming them, and ourselves, as we journey into the future.

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Copyright © 2020 by Laura Perry