The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch
This is a wonderful book.
Firstly, it is wonderful because it is so beautifully written. I don’t make New Years resolutions, but one of the little half-promises I made to myself a few weeks back was to allow myself to simply read books that would be enjoyable. My reading slowed considerably last year, and part of this was due to the fact that much of the time I was reading books I felt I ought to be reading and so much of the time those books were either not especially gripping, and/or (far too often it is ‘and’) badly written. So I am cutting myself some grace and reading things simply for the pleasure of reading, and as a result am back up to two books a week. And The Undertaking is very well written indeed.
Lynch is an award winning poet, as well as an undertaker, and writes with a poets sensibility and love of language and ability to connect with the emotions. As an undertaker he writes as someone very familiar with the intimacies of the dying and death. This is a very Ecclesiastes type book, which is helpful as I am currently preaching through Ecclesiastes. Lynch made me laugh out loud, and cry, and think.
It is a wonderful book. I have had it in my Amazon basket for a few years, having seen it reviewed somewhere else, and when I saw I could now get it for a mere penny I pressed the button. A penny well spent.
Lynch is brutal about the finality of death, the reality of decay that sets in as soon as the final breath departs. But he is also lyrical about the significance of the dead body that remains for those not yet dead (“The bodies of the dead are really important. We want them back to let them go again – on our terms, at our pace, to say you may not leave without permission, forgiveness, our respects – to say we want our chance to say goodbye.”). He faces head on our embarrassment about death and draws interesting cultural observations about the ways in which we deal with death (“There seems to be, in my lifetime, an inverse relationship between the size of the TV screen and the space we allow for the dead in our lives and landscapes.”). He riffs about the potential of combining golf course and cemetery in a money spinning ‘golfatorium’ and (in a section I found almost unbearable) describes a colleague stitching back together the wrecked body of a girl smashed to pieces by a murderer-rapist. And he offers what is I think the most sustained and powerful polemic against euthanasia I have ever had the pleasure to read.
This is a wonderful book. A book about death might not be the obvious place to go simply to read something for the pleasure of reading, but read this and I think you will be surprised.