09 May 2019, The Tablet

Chamber music


Chamber music

Inside the Furong Cave in Wulong District, Chongqing, south-west China
Photo: PA/Xinhua, Liu Chan

 

Underland: A Deep Time Journey
ROBERT MACFARLANE
(HAMISH HAMILTON, 496 PP, £20)
Tablet bookshop price £18 • Tel 01420 592974

Robert Macfarlane is a self-described explorer of “the relationships between landscape and the human heart”. That might sound like vaulting ambition, but in fact – given the gigantic scope of this book – it is something of a modest understatement. In previous books he has taken us upwards (Mountains of the Mind, 2003) and along (The Old Ways, 2012). Now, with Underland, he takes us down, beneath the earth’s surface.

We accompany him deep into our pocketed planet, into mines and caves, sinkholes and graves, crevasses and catacombs: places where many of us would fear to tread, let alone crawl or slither on our bellies as he does. While he’s down there, he excavates the role of the underland in our lives: its symbolism in myth and psychology, its place in history and science and ecology and language.

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