Near where I grew up, is a place called Brookwood Cemetery. For years this 500-acre site was the largest burial ground in the world and when it was first set aside it even had its own railway line and platform at Waterloo Station. I spent many an afternoon walking around there, and whilst some might find that morbid, there was a peacefulness to the place.
Sprackland is another person who fascinated by graveyards, so much so that she remembers the places that she has lived and significant family moments by the graveyards that were nearby. She has fond memories of these places and uses them to root her in the locality. Going back over people’s past makes her want to travel back through her life, to the towns and cities that she has lived before. In each of the graveyards, she finds a glimpse of a life that has long ceased to exist but still has a story to tell of the people who once walked the streets that she now walks again.
Her journey will take her from Oxford to Devon, London to Norfolk. But also back into the past to learn about a drowned lad, the owner of a steam fairground, bodies used for medical research and a young lady who died after her clothes caught fire.
Wherever I have lived, I have found them – some like cities, others like gardens, or forests of stone – and they have become the counterparts of those lived places: the otherworlds which have helped make sense of this world.
Each of these stories is told with Sprackland’s keen eye for detail in the lives that were once lived and their final resting place as she traces the inscriptions in the stone. Death is still a taboo object, however, there is something peaceful about graveyards, not only are they are a haven of quiet in a relentless world, but they are one of those thin places where you feel closer to other worlds. It is beautifully written as I have come to expect with all of her books, she has immensely powerful prose. Even though it is about the dead, it not morbid at all, rather she is curious about the past and the relics that we leave to remember someone.
Paul Cheney 4/4*
These Silent Mansions by Jean Sprackland
9780224098359 Penguin Jonathan Cape Hardback February /2020