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British author Robert Macfarlane is technically a nature writer, but whose style is several shades darker than Henry David Thoreau, or even Edward Abbey. He is also a deep, occasionally ponderous thinker and careful writer, with a style as fecund and dense as a forest floor.
The paragraph above encapsulates both the ambivalence and grudging admiration I feel for his new book Underland: A Deep Time Journey, which after initial misgivings impressed me as an original labor of one man’s topsy-turvy love for the sinister hidden places below our feet. Macfarlane’s 2003 debut, Mountains of the Mind, resisted the romanticizing of extreme mountain-climbing, but with Underland he has happily succumbed to pursuing dangerous extremes from the opposite direction—going down, not up.
Catacombs - Matter - Particle - Observatory - Yorkshire
He treks to claustrophobic Parisian catacombs, to a “dark matter” particle observatory under Yorkshire, and to the underground city of Derinkuyu. He learns how the ghosts of World War II refuse to stay buried in Slovenia. He tours a first-of-its-kind waste repository for spent nuclear fuel below the west coast of Finland, “keeping the future safe from the present.” Macfarlane stretches our perceptions both of space and time, going deep in every direction, up and down, past and future.
Lyrical lines alternate with pretentious ones (or is the other way around?) and some I’m still not sure about, like “We ghost the past, we are its eerie.” But Macfarlane has done his time in the mines, and the catacombs, and the moulins, which are holes in glaciers.
Cambridge - Professor - Literature - 40s - Manner
He’s a Cambridge professor of literature in his early 40s who writes in the manner of a 600-year-old tree. But flowery language is a forgivable temptation in nature writing, and once I suppressed my cynicism I came away impressed with both the range of his thinking and his physical courage.
Underland has notes, a bibliography, and an...
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