These Silent Mansions

These Silent Mansions : A life in graveyards

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Graveyards are oases: places of escape, of peace and reflection. Each is a garden or nature reserve, but also a site of commemoration, where the past is close enough to touch: a liminal place, at the border of the living world.

Jean Sprackland's prize-winning book, Strands, brought to life the histories of objects found on a beach. These Silent Mansions is also an uncovering of individual stories: vivid, touching and intimately told. Sprackland travels back through her own life, revisiting graveyards in the ordinary towns and cities she has called home, seeking out others who lived, died and are remembered or forgotten there. With her poet's eye, she makes chance discoveries among the stones and inscriptions: a notorious smuggler tucked up in a sleepy churchyard; ancient coins unearthed on a secret burial ground; a slow-worm basking in the sun.

These Silent Mansions is an elegant, exhilarating meditation on the relationship between the living and the dead, the nature of time and loss, and how - in this restless, accelerated world - we can connect the here with the elsewhere, the present with the past.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 240 pages
  • 144 x 222 x 25mm | 361g
  • Jonathan Cape Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0224098357
  • 9780224098359
  • 86,358

Review Text

"Cemetery tales, filled with fascinating details and told with a poet’s skill… Delightfully morbid… Sprackland roves about history, language, biology, architecture, entomology, iconography and much else in her quest for meaning… [and] the astonishing twist…should justify your reading These Silent Mansions in its entirety."
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Review quote

Sprackland gets her bearings from graveyards. She does not really feel that she has touch down somewhere properly unless she has established more than a nodding acquaintance with the order to discover what part of her older self might have survived. -- Michael Glover * Tablet * A deeply pleasurable blend of poetic anthropology... against the inevitable forces of erasure, this small book serves as an act of defiance. -- Claire Allfree * Evening Standard * Part memoir, part nature study and part social history, Sprackland returns in this sensitive and unusual book to the graveyards of the towns and villages where she has lived... [Sprackland] connects us to the forgotten lives of those whose names, like Ebenezer and Chastity, are now eaten by moss and lichen...[and] discovers the tales...[of] collective history. -- Frances Wilson * Mail on Sunday * To opened ground and graven stone Jean Sprackland brings a poet's scrutiny and the archivist's insatiable curiosity. She disinters the humanity buried in the humus; and how, as fungus and algae make the lichen bloom, the living and the dead must share the several geographies of time and memory, identity and story. These Silent Mansions, like silence "beyond silence listened for", rings remarkable and true. -- Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking Sprackland has the poet's knack for atmosphere and a magician's ability to conjure up other worlds. She is like a ghostly time traveller... Sprackland is particularly agile, though, at exploring the ways in which a graveyard reflects its community and how, with modern life, we are losing this sense of connection. -- Ann Treneman * The Times * Cemetery tales, filled with fascinating details and told with a poet's skill... Delightfully morbid... Sprackland roves about history, language, biology, architecture, entomology, iconography and much else in her quest for meaning... [and] the astonishing twist...should justify your reading These Silent Mansions in its entirety. -- Anthony Quinn * Guardian * Part social history, part personal meditation and wholly enchanting - as attentive to local and moving details as it is to the fact of mortality itself. -- Andrew Motion
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About Jean Sprackland

Jean Sprackland's first book of non-fiction, Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach, won the 2012 Portico Prize. She is the author of five poetry collections, including Tilt, which won the 2007 Costa Poetry Award and, most recently, Green Noise (2018). She lives in London.
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