Peter Ross’s book A Tomb with a View is his personal look at the way we commemorate the dead in Britain. The author has wisely eschewed gimmicks, such as travelling around the country in a hearse or trying to see all the sites he mentions within a specified time, in favour of a more personal narrative in which he talks about things in which he is interested. The result of this approach is that the book is an eclectic collection of sites and stories and contains a lot of anecdotes. I thought that this made it more interesting to read and I enjoyed the variety.
The author looks at graveyards and cemeteries and tells us about notable or quirky burials. He talks to those who look after these sites and to those who visit or commemorate the dead. He talks about ossuaries where bones are collected to be stored and places where parts of skeletons have been used as decoration. He mentions plague pits, and a place in London where sex workers and their children were buried anonymously and where a memorial is now being raised. He visits France and Belgium where great efforts are still made to recover and identify the bones of those lost in battle over a century ago. He also looks at how cemeteries are being reused as public spaces and even as places for weddings. He examines more modern ways of disposing of bodies such as green burials.
The tone of the book is respectful and the author emphasises remembrance and those who remember. He talks about people and shares some remarkable stories with the reader. The book is full of interesting snippets and occasionally it is moving but the author is trying to celebrate life and people rather than dwelling on death and sadness – I thought it worked well. Despite the subject matter I found the book uplifting and enjoyable.