'Hell Unearthed' is Hilary McElwaine's interpretation and updating of Dante Alighieri's 'Inferno', the first part of his 'Divine Comedy', written between 1308 and 1320. In the original, hell is described in graphic and gruesome detail before leading the reader through purgatory and finally to the salvation of paradise. This author has adapted Dante's work for a modern audience, providing many recent examples of behaviour, which although generally condemned, doesn't always make for comfortable reading. The book keeps to Dante's original map of nine downward circles of hell, through which he is guided by Virgil, who he greatly admired. As the pair travel deeper, the tormented souls they encounter are guilty of more and more serious crimes, though I find it disturbing and hard to accept that, for instance, someone who has betrayed a client in business is on a lower level than a paedophile like Jimmy Savile, because he or she has used their intellect to commit their crime. This is not of course necessarily the author's view but some of her more modern day examples include veritable icons like David Bowie, Princess Diana, Elvis and Horatio Nelson, which many readers, myself included, would view as controversial and upsetting. These are far outweighed though by the examples of Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Al Capone, Myra Hindley and the like, who committed terrible acts of violence against humanity. Also in line with the original, some fictional perpetrators of wickedness are included, which I found rather strange, as there are surely more than enough real life evildoers to fill the chapters, both then and now. This is a very interesting and thought provoking read, regardless of whether you believe in any kind of afterlife or not and I do hope that the author will go on to rework the other two books in the 'Comedy', as Dante is undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of all time and deserves to be introduced to a wider and younger audience in the same way that Shakespeare has been. Drena Irish, A LoveReading Ambassador
Hell Unearthed charts Dante's journey, guided by his hero, Virgil, through the underworld. In this modern version of Inferno, the cast of sinners Dante meets includes gangsters, dictators, pop stars, sports stars, princes and princesses. These characters' stories will be familiar to many and they sit alongside sinners drawn from classical mythology as well as the heroes and villains from Dante's contemporary medieval Tuscany. Characters are positioned in Hell according to the gravity of their sin and are tormented by weapons such as fire, boiling blood, sticky tar or ice. Some are stuck headfirst in holes with their legs wriggling about in the air; others are clawed or hooked by demons. The tormented souls we witness in Hell Unearthed prompt questions about life, happiness, greatness, our relationship with society and with our friends and family. Do we really suffer for our wrongdoings after we have died? What is happiness? What is it to achieve greatness in life, and how is that greatness viewed in the afterlife? How should we live our lives to ensure happiness or salvation after we die? What makes society and local communities strong? The message remains the same as Dante's original. Happiness is achieved through peace and stability in government with clear moral guidance coming from a spiritual power. We need to nurture our relationships with others in society and be mindful of causing harm. What we achieve in life, and how, will ultimately be judged by God. Hell Unearthed expands Dante's world to show that people across geographical, cultural and religious divides can be guilty of the same human failings. Recognition of the universality of sin should be a unifying process and that was certainly also Dante's intention with Inferno.