Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2008, Bloomsbury Publishing
After reading (and loving) ‘Neverwhere’, needless to say I was eager to pick up and read more of Gaiman’s works when I happened to stumble upon this one (much to my delight) in the library.
The story revolves around a boy named Nobody Owens (simply named so because “he looks like nobody but himself”) or Bod for short. He is the sole survivor when a mysterious figure murders his family. After wandering in a graveyard, he is adopted and raised by the late residents of the graveyard (after all, “It will take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will, take a graveyard”). Once granted the ‘freedom of the graveyard’, Bod’s own adventures unfold as he discovers new worlds and eventually finds the man who killed his family.
Gaiman presents an incredible concept that completely swept me off my feet. Judging by the initial premise and summary of the story it can be assumed that the characters presented are humans that are either alive or dead. Yet this is not the case. A mixture of different characters are present within this world, ranging from ghosts to hounds of God. Not only was the variety of types of characters impressive but the presentation of them as well.
“Name the different kinds of people,’ said Miss Lupescu. ‘Now.’
Bod thought for a moment. ‘The living,’ he said. ‘Er. The dead.’ He stopped. Then, ‘… Cats?’ he offered, uncertainly.”
Arguably, most of these types of characters have all been explored before in literature, yet Gaiman veers from the stereotypical ideas and depicts them in creative way. Hounds of God for example are more typically and commonly known as ‘werewolves’ and have mostly been portrayed as monsters. Furthermore, earlier folklore originally saw werewolves as creatures that are known to consort with the devil and in this case given the name of ‘hellhounds’. Thus it was refreshing to see werewolves given another name (hounds of God) that saw them as guardians and creatures in service of God.
Not only this, but it was curious to see how the powers of the dead are explored. Normally, it’s a given in most stories that ghosts cannot be seen by humans but in this particular world, it is indicated that ghosts have to make a conscious effort to ‘fade’ from sight and that these powers have to be practiced to be mastered rather than just acquired at death.
The actual writing was amazing. The way Gaiman writes is very simple but incredibly effective. The descriptions used evoke feeling and vividly paint a picture. There weren’t any extra descriptions that were not needed or wanted (which some authors arguably can be found guilty of doing *cough* Dickens *cough* 😛).
Gaiman’s writing was very clean and not heavy handed or crowded. It was beautifully simple without losing depth. The plot itself was skillfully written; a fast paced whirlwind of an adventure from the get go which retained my interest and actually made me nearly miss my stop (a couple of times) on the commute to work!
The ending for me was beautiful and very bittersweet but utterly perfect. I don’t think any other ending would have worked half as well as this one did. Although everything was technically tied up, for me there were still a couple of unresolved issues and questions that had not been addressed.
Another thing that confused me a little was the absence of Bod’s own theories and thoughts surrounding these issues. As a reader, I was (inevitably) coming up with all sorts of theories about the characters whom very little had been revealed about. However, having said that it should be taken in to consideration that this is a young teen’s book so perhaps Gaiman did not want to overcomplicate it and/or leave a bit of mystery for the reader to ponder over (of course, this is just my own speculation). Personally I would have liked a little more background on some of the characters especially the Jacks-of-all-Trades.
Overall, an immensely enjoyable read with darkness, adventure and humour. For me, Gaiman also captured the essence of growing up and what it means to leave home and go out in the world and confront the uncertain future. It also nicely illustrated how things can be looked at differently from a child’s point of view.
“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”
I can honestly say that I will be reading more of Gaiman’s works and cannot wait to pick up another one of his books (and I genuinely think you guys should too especially if you are yet to read any of Gaiman’s works).