The Graveyard Book

I've come to the conclusion that I will always read Neil Gaiman's things and even if I'm not delighted by a piece, it doesn't seem to decrease my interest in his work. It's just kind of how it is. There's something fascinating about the stories he tells and so even if I'm not immediately taken by the idea, sooner or later, I know that I'll always pick up whatever he happens to publish. In addition, I tend to prefer his novels on audio book (or at least certainly the ones geared towards a younger audience). He reads them himself and there's something about having the writer read his work... it's the closest you can get to understanding his intentions, as he's placing the emphasis on just what he wishes. I also think I just might find Neil Gaiman to be fascinating, too, and I'm always pleased to see his tweets (@neilhimself).

The Graveyard Book opens with a very chilling scene -- a man named Jack enters a home and kills a family... everyone except the baby, who happens to escape death by chance, as he toddles out the open door and into the nearby graveyard. With Jack in pursuit, the ghosts of the graveyard hide the baby after the faint spirit of his newly murdered mother appears to plead for assistance, and the man Jack is diverted and drawn away. After a good amount of discussion between the occupants of the graveyard, the baby is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, and he is christened "Nobody." Another being, named Silas, also agrees to serve as the child's guardian, as the ghosts cannot leave the graveyard, but Silas can, and therefore is able to procure food and clothing for the boy.

And so Nobody Owens (known as "Bod") grows up in a graveyard, under its protection and thus given certain advantages. For instance, he can see quite clearly in the dark and learns things that ghosts must learn, such as the abilities to fade from view or change the atmosphere to increase the levels of unease and fear. He is tutored by ghosts and only makes one living friend as a child. But always there is the threat that outside the graveyard, there is danger. For the man Jack had been sent to kill Bod and his family, and he has not stopped looking for the boy.

I found the first half of this story to be more interesting than the second, and certain moments stand out as being more memorable than others. I tended to like the idea of things best (the idea of a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard, the idea of an ancient spirit living deep under the graveyard that is waiting for a master, and so forth), so it's not surprising, I suppose that the beginning would appeal to me more than the end, where things had played out. I certainly do recommend the audiobook, and Neil Gaiman unsurprisingly does a wonderful job. His voice perfectly fits the tone of the story; and it was that tone that I consistently enjoyed, even while certain events didn't delight me. The relationship with Scarlett, his one friend, was cute but predictable, particularly when it came to her introduction of Mr. Frost. The motivation for killing Bod's family and the continued search for Bod was not what I hoped for. It seemed too grandiose for the setting and I would have been more satisfied with something a little more focused. I also thought that while we did have some entertaining vignettes of scenes, they were quite obviously inserted for later use, and I never found myself surprised by the events. But as with all Neil Gaiman stories, there are some delightful details and moments. The focus on and description of the knife in the first scene made it so chilling. Bod's identification of the ghosts both by name and the inscription on their tombstone made me smile. When the Sleer uncertainly asked Bod if he was their master, and then if he would be their master, I almost cried.

If you enjoyed Coraline, I certainly think you'll be entertained by this -- though despite its setting, I didn't find it as unsettling as certain parts of that story. I do always appreciate that Neil Gaiman is not afraid to let children know that bad things happen in the world, often to good people who did nothing to deserve them. Families can be killed and children can lose all they have. He doesn't overly-shield them and I find that somewhat admirable in today's day and age. It's a different tack than, say, Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket with his Series of Unfortunate Events where bad things happen, but in a more entertaining way. So, thanks again, Neil, for another fascinating tale. My ipod and I eagerly await the next.

1 comment:

shelley said...

Thanks for recommending the audio version. I loved this book and to hear Neil Gaiman read it might just be the bee's knees. Any other audiobook recommendations?