UNDERLAND – A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane


Just one more before we segue into open arts…

It has taken me some time to post about this book, just as it took me some time to read it. And this is not because I didn’t love every single word of it. It is an extraordinary book. Rather it is because, as its title suggests, most of it takes place underground – not a place I am comfortable, I need to see the sky – and because Macfarlane is such a fine writer I spent much of this book in a state of physical discomfort. But it was worth it.

Macfarlane is a writer of immense gifts and deep sensitivity. His work investigates the intersection between humanity and landscape, between mystery and science, between the heart and what it may not always understand. He pushes boundaries in the book, physically and philosophically, in that investigation. He explores underground spaces that are created by natural forces and spaces that are human made. All are equally unsettling. And equally revealing. He explores mines – deep mines – and nuclear storage sites. He travels deep below the surface where …dark matter physicists work at the boundary of the measurable and the imaginable. He delves into climate history trapped in deep ice and rappels into a moulin, a meltwater shaft carved into a glacier. And he does a lot of caving. A lot of caving. Working his body into unbelievable spaces to push his understanding of the earth, the self, where the two intersect.

Macfarlane is a deeply lyrical writer. For example –

Far to the north-east a patch of blue shows in the clouds, and for a few seconds there is a glitter of light out on the water below. For those seconds I love that blue with all my heart, dream-dive deep into it, drown in its hue.

And –

…language seems impossible, impertinent, sliding stupidly off this landscape. Its size makes metaphor and simile seem preposterous. It is like nowhere I have ever been. It shucks story, leaves the usual forms of meaning-making derelict.

And, exploring an underground river –

The sound of this starless river is like none I have ever heard. It has volume. Its volume has hollowness. Each sound has its echo, and each echo its interior.

Always, his investigations bump up against where mystery and science, the known and the unknowable, converge. And I haven’t even begun to speak of the implications of time. Oh my…

This is a book I expect to reread, a book that deserves more of my attention, a book that has altered my sense of deep spaces.

3 comments on “UNDERLAND – A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane”

  1. What a beautiful review. I love Terry Tempest Williams who endorsed the book on its cover. Under Land sounds magical and meaningful. Thank you for the recommendation.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Well, it is a beautiful book. I too love Terry Tempest Williams. Her most recent book – Erosion: Essays of Undoing – was extraordinary. I think I posted about it here.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Robert Macfarlane of The Lost Words. I am at a loss, JNaz, to find the words to say how much your review of this book moved me. I’m sure I will love reading the book, too! 🙂 Seems like I saw something (on PBS?) about those dark matter physicists working at unimaginable depths, and I wanted to know more. Mystery and science.

    Liked by 1 person

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