Sites of Death in Some Recent British Fiction

Autumn/Winter 2016
DOI: 10.3898/NEWF:89/90.12.2016

We generally think that death has retreated from contemporary everyday life, withdrawn to the non-places of nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, funeral parlours, crematoria. Graham Swift’s Last Orders, with its journey from technologised hospital death to the scattering of the ashes, occupies precisely these non-places of death.  J. G. Ballard’s Crash, however, provides a counter-example: Crash takes place in the non-places of motorway slip-roads, airport access roads, police-pounds and reservoirs. At the same time, it registers how these spaces and non-spaces are over-written by various pre-existing scripts of violent death by films, television and newspaper photographs. The essay then demonstrates the ubiquity of death in contemporary life by exploring Tom McCarthy’s engagement with accident, trauma and re-enactment in Remainder; Gordon Burns’s depiction of tabloid journalism and modern improvised rituals of death in fullalove; the psychogeographic identification of particular sites of death in the work of Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd; and the recognition, in detective fiction, that anywhere can be a site of death. The essay concludes by considering the popularity of forensic-science series and how Silent Witness, Waking the Dead, Cold Case, and CSI present death in its multiple forms for peak-time viewing.

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New Formations 89/90: Death and the Contemporary