The Underground Man

Mick Jackson, Author
Mick Jackson, Author William Morrow & Company $22 (272p) ISBN 978-0-688-15449-3
Reviewed on: 12/01/1981
Release date: 12/01/1981
""I have no idea how an apple tree works. The quiet machine beneath the bark is quite beyond my ken. But, like the next man along, my Imagination is willing to jump into Ignorance's breach...."" So begin the fictionalized journals of William John Cavendish Bentinck-Scott, fifth Duke of Portland (1800-1879), best remembered for having, in real life, dug a complex network of tunnels beneath his estate in England. Jackson intersperses historical anecdote with pure invention in his exploration of the reclusive Duke's life. Most of the book is composed of diary entries in which the Duke muses about such things as an encounter with two young children playing a game, his passion for cartography and the interior of his lungs. Mixed in with these firsthand accounts are the reports of others: an artist who works for the Duke, various servants and random near-acquaintances (""A Local Woman's Account""). What emerges is less a traditional plot than the portrait of a mind as mazy as the tunnels it loves. Though appealing for its quirkiness, the diary can be a frustrating read. Without their dates, the entries might be rearranged entirely, and it is difficult to glean any sense of progress toward a final outcome. The rich metaphor of the tunnels is in the end underexplored; the duke remains underground in more ways than one. (June)
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