Set in and around Cessnock in the Hunter Valley of NSW, camping underground is a brutal, lyrical and cinematic narrative that lays out the scattered fragments of Kelly Edwards’s life before and after the political violence she is implicated in unleashes a viral pandemic and societal collapse.
McLaren has written the Great Australian Apocalypse. camping underground is a vernacular lament for our country’s past, present, and possible futures, but it never succumbs to cynicism: it feels urgent, a ectionate, and beautiful, full of despair and love and a biting sense of humour. I read it in one sitting, completely spellbound, and it made my heart both shrink and stretch.
Greg McLaren’s apocalyptic epic poem is a daring and brilliant work. In twists of afters and befores in the coal mining Hunter Valley in NSW, atrocities seem ‘normal’. Families are ‘camping underground’ in an old colliery, sheltering in terror from drive-by shootings, bullying patriots, lone actors, nuclear reactor bomb plots, snipers, race riots, zoonotic virii, distorted limbs sticking out of sandy beaches that mock the end times weather. Human survival has become utterly perilous yet sex and sensuality endure and ribbons of dark wit wrap around familial losses. “Cessnock, where else/ would you stage/ the end of the world?”
“McLaren’s book is a fictional verse novel with an overarching narrative…The beauty of the phrasing, as with the moments of humour, speak to humaneness under duress, but resisting…being reminded of literature’s singularity; it does not mimic resistance, but becomes it.”
CHRIS BILLINGHAM, The Conversation