All That Remains by Sue Black came out a few years ago and has won numerous awards.
The book cover suggests a factual, maybe even clinical assessment of what remains when we die. However, the book combines deeply personal reflections on death including the deaths of loved ones, with the cold, hard process of decomposition.
The book starts with Black’s life, her first job at a butcher shop, followed by the loss of people she loved. In between, we learn about vital organs to sustain life, how neurons could play a role in our identification, and how our hair and nails form a timeline of ingested nutrients thus providing hints of locations and areas where we lived.
Black is great at describing how maggots fester in eyes and nostrils and with the same easy she repeats traumatic periods in her life. The reader goes through a rollercoaster of emotions.
We are amazed to read that our first adult molar indicates much about our mother’s heritage and diet, are torn apart by the personal losses and grief Black describes, to then battle the seven stages of postmortem and the five main classifications of criminal dismemberment.
Without a bridge, the personal grief unintentionally leads the reader back to traumatic episodes in their own lives, of loss and grief, and it becomes hard not to place the picture of a past away loved one on the skeletons discussed in the book.
The book flows at a good pace, the factual knowledge is clearly explained with plenty of examples, there are picture credits, and an index.
Can I recommend the book?
I was and bored, and grief stricken, fascinated, and repulsed. And all the time, I secretly wished that the book had a different set-up. The book is a memoir, a text book, a clinical overview, and a forensic guide at the same time.
So, to answer my own question, this book is recommended reading with the trigger warning to not think about your own loved ones who have passed away. My other book reviews are here.