THE MONDAY BOOK: Exploring the Literature and Politics of Death ; Last Landscapes Ken Worpole Reaktion Books, Pounds 22

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WHY DO we welcome photographers at christenings and weddings, but not at funerals? Isn't this just as important a family rite? Today, the only visual setting where funerals flourish is the cinema or television screen. Here, the deaths have nothing directly to do with the audience. On the other hand, the directors acknowledge the huge emblematic power of death and its accompanying rituals.

Many visitors, going to a new village or town, look first at the graveyard. "Like libraries," Ken Worpole notes in Last Landscapes, "cemeteries are quiet, catalogued and annotated." It is where the memories are: the city of Bologna has 450,000 living inhabitants, but 700,000 buried dead. In the east London borough of Newham, cemeteries account for 61 per cent of public open space.

Yet, as Worpole points out in his remarkable and attractive study of the architecture of the cemetery in Europe and North America, British architects and planners pay no attention to this most symbolic of places. Three-quarters of the dead are shuffled away in bleak municipal crematoria. The exceptions are telling. A dead child is usually buried, not cremated, because there is then a dedicated place to sit and grieve.

Worpole has written one of the most thoughtful and thought- provoking books of this year. With photographer Larraine Worpole, he has walked down the overgrown paths of the great Victorian cemeteries, such as Highgate or Abney Park; scaled the slopes of Glasgow's blackened Necropolis; explored the jostling tombs of Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde in Pere-Lachaise in Paris; sampled the "good grave culture" of Sweden.

He captures the bleakness of many newer British cemeteries: rows of undifferentiated graves in a layout mainly designed to make things mechanically easier for grass-cutters. …