An unusual and intriguing travel book, into the world beneath the world we know.
In his debut, Hunt begins modestly before revealing larger ambitions. His obsession with the underground started with an abandoned train tunnel he explored as a teenager, and his fascination would ultimately lead him through underground passageways of Paris and New York City, Aboriginal mines of Australia, and other wondrous places. His early experiences, he writes, “seized me with a ferocity that turned my entire imagination inside-out, fundamentally altering the way I thought about myself, and my place in the greater architecture of the world.” The author casts himself among the “urban explorers” of the world below street level and “the Mole People, the homeless men and women who lived in hidden nooks and vaults.” His earliest guide to this secret world was a photographer he describes as “a dashing and brilliant and possibly deranged individual.” As Hunt reveals the scientific, historic, literary, psychological, spiritual, and metaphorical qualities of his exploration, it begins to seem less idiosyncratic than universal, a pull that has persisted throughout civilization and a mystery that has yet to be solved. The underground may represent hell to some, but it has also provided spiritual solace for centuries. Pilgrims have felt themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves, and they have left human sacrifices to cruel gods and created graffiti, paintings, or elaborate sculptures that so few would ever see. They have mined the underground for earthly riches, and they have all but lost their minds to its sensory deprivation. Without belaboring the point, Hunt alludes to conjecture that all of life might have started underground, that it retains a revelatory diversity, and that the level below the Earth could be a womb as well as a tomb. Ultimately, he compellingly examines “how much of our existence remains in mystery, how much of reality continues to elude us, and how much deeper our world runs beyond what we know.”
A vivid illumination of the dark and an effective evocation of its profound mystery.