Nature writer Macfarlane (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot) expands readers’ horizons while delving into the various worlds beneath our feet, from deep caves to underground fungal networks and Bronze Age burial chambers.
...[a] masterly and mesmerising exploration of the world below us... We exit, utterly, beautifully changed ... Underland is rich with echoes of [earlier] works. It’s as if, deep within the ancient rock, Macfarlane is gaining perspective not only on time and nature, but also on his own literary career ... At one point, a taciturn potholer in the Carso, Sergio, offers up a halting explanation of why he seeks to map the underland: 'Here in the abyss we make… romantic science.' It’s a fitting description of this extraordinary book, at once learned and readable, thrilling and beautifully written.
Built on an epic scale, and delivered with a beautifully eloquent and sensitive language, this is a book of underground temples, catacombs, the underworld of myth, of root-systems, and submerged rivers ... this is not a stale book of non-fiction: rather, it is an account of adventure, terror, discovery and hope. In fact, this is a plea for the world seen in mythic proportions – it is compulsive, and human ... Combining a wish 'for a language that recognises and advances the animacy of the world' with an engaged and often humorous vision of the interconnectedness of things, this is a book of deep wisdom and touching humanity.
Macfarlane is often an engaging companion, sounding off about new scientific theories, or amazing me with his ability to thread together disparate facts to reach startling conclusions ... Unfortunately, when it comes to describing the places he traverses Macfarlane is let down by the quality of his prose. In attempting to describe everything he veers dangerously close to describing nothing ... It is hit-and-miss whether Macfarlane pulls some poetic synthesis of imagination and fact or an ill-formed semi-profundity out of his hat each time he halts to ponder ... It’s a shame Macfarlane doesn’t follow the example of one of his heroes, the Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies, and leave himself out of the frame a bit more. I admire his values and his gusto but find his company wearying over the long haul.