The Pequod Review:
There is something cumulatively enchanting about Hayley Campbell's All the Living and the Dead as she explores the various occupations that deal with dying and death: morticians, homicide investigators, gravediggers, embalmers, crime scene cleaners, and executioners, among others. Not all of her profiles are as detailed or informative as they could have been, but some of the best parts of the book show how Campbell's immersion into the world of death — a world that is mostly hidden in our modern culture — changes her approach to life too:
I go to the gym, but this time it feels different. Usually I come here to quiet my mind; today it is irretrievably deafening. The sound of the living is unbelievably loud when you’ve been in the company of the dead. In a spin class I hear people gasping, heaving and shouting. It’s the sound of survival, the impermanent and unlikely state of being alive. Everything is more vivid than usual, every sense heightened. These vocal cords being used, these hearts beating and lungs inflating, monotonous and vital. I feel the physical warmth radiating off strangers, fogging up the windows. I feel the blood rushing through my veins. "Nobody dies in spin class!" shouts the instructor. "Push yourself to failure!" I’m thinking that one day all of these bodies will fail and everything will fall silent but for the hum of the mortuary fridge.
There are also moments of quiet beauty as low-level workers find small ways to honor the dead:
The muscles on his slim legs said he was a fit man, possibly a runner. You don’t need to know how someone died when you’re only there to dress them, and you rarely find out, but the fentanyl painkiller patches on his arm and sticky outlines on the skin where previous patches had been removed suggested a long illness. Roseanna gently rubs at the places where the patches used to be, trying to get rid of the glue. "We remove as much as we can without damaging them," she says. "If we start removing a plaster and someone’s skin starts to come off, we’ll just leave it." She tells me that as much as possible, they make all evidence of hospitals and medical intervention vanish. Nobody needs to go to their grave wearing compression socks and the disconnected end of an IV drip.