A Bibliophile’s Miscellany: Graveyard Scenes
Just in time for Halloween, we bring you a list of five books with great graveyard scenes:
This is by far my favorite Chevalier novel. Spanning the decade from Queen Victoria’s death to King Edward VII’s, it fills the period between those two royal funerals with a melancholy set of family and societal changes. One of the main characters is a gravedigger, and the ‘falling angel’ of the title is a grave monument that topples and shatters (and, perhaps, more metaphorically, the characters who succumb to temptation and experience sexual awakenings). There’s also suffragism, forbidden love, and the changing gender dynamic in marriage – all delivered through the alternating first-person perspectives of each of the main characters.
Though not nearly as imaginative and delightful as Niffenegger’s previous novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry is a great read set around London’s Highgate Cemetery. Twins Julia and Valentina move from America to London, where they have inherited their aunt’s flat next to Highgate. As they come to learn the stories of their neighbors – both alive and buried – they ponder the special bonds between twins (their mother and aunt were also twin sisters) and between the living and the dead.
3. Burning Bright by Ron Rash
This terrific short story collection from the dirty realist tradition is well worth reading for its grim portrayal of Appalachian blue-collar types – pawn shops, meth labs, sad prospects, and bitter endings. However, the one story that stood out most for me was set in a graveyard, with two hapless characters digging up Confederate Civil War artifacts to sell on the black market. Whether motivated by sheer greed or justified altruism, the men are poised for a blackly comic disaster. Rash is sensitive to the complicated ethics of poverty and class, as well as to the macabre humor found in awful situations.
4. Pure by Andrew Miller
This one also featured in my Summer Reading special on books about France, but I can’t help but mention it again in this context. It’s set in the fetid atmosphere of an overfull cemetery in late eighteenth-century Paris, rather ironically named Les Innocents. Our hero is the young engineer tasked with emptying the cemetery, and in Miller’s lush prose this simple incident becomes a fascinatingly dark lesson in what can be achieved before the grave calls.
In this fifth book of the Flavia de Luce series (which also featured in my list of child narrators), the town of Bishop’s Lacey is marking 500 years since the death of its patron, St. Tancred, by exhuming his remains. But when the tomb is opened, the townspeople find a much fresher body – that of the church organist. Our eleven-year-old heroine, a precocious amateur chemist and detective, has yet another Gothic mystery to solve. Bradley’s cozy, humorous English mysteries make for perfect autumnal reads.
Also, check out our travel feature on literary grave hunting!
(The featured image of Highgate Cemetery is by Thegirlwho [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)
What are some of your favorite Halloween reads? List them in the comments area below!