There is a first time for everything, and The Graveyard Book was my first Neil Gaiman read. I’ve heard a lot about his books, how amazingly stellar they are and more where that came from, but I’ve never really felt the need to pick one of his works up and start reading. This all changed when this novel was thrust in my hands by the lovely boyfriend. They do have their good sides, don’t they, boyfriends?
IT TAKES A GRAVEYARD TO RAISE A CHILD.
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.
There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy – an ancient indigo man, a gateway to abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible fleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will be in danger from the man Jack – who has already killed Bod’s family . . .
This novel is told by means of short stories all from the perspective of Bod. With every story, we move a little forward in time and because of this, the novel as a whole was quite a unique experience. The final chapters – or stories, if you like – make all the previous ones come together in one coherent storyline, and an engaging one at that. Because of the different short stories, it was quite hard to discern where the plot was taking you and it wasn’t until the final chapters that things were becoming clear. By not explicitly including the bigger picture in the first few stories, those solely rely on their own little plot and thus can become rather hit and miss. I didn’t find there to be a particularly bad story, but the third one – “The Hounds of God”, about the ghouls – was probably my least favourite of them all. It wasn’t bad, but the contrast with others, like “The New Friend” and “The Witch’s Headstone” was apparent. The way the different pieces of the puzzle came together in the end, however, was nothing short of brilliance. Even though it is a children’s book, I found the ending to be very engaging and exciting. Together with the very beginning, the highlight of the book for sure.
There are quite some characters inhabiting this story, ranging from the good to the evil, from the dead to the living. Even though the man Jack is a despicable human being and creeped me out, I thought he did a novel job as the bad guy. Abanazer Bolger and Tom Hustings have some fingers in that pie as well. The great thing about the characters, is how they each have their own, unique voice. From the stern Silas to the rather playful Liza, you’ll learn to love each and every one of them. The main star of the show, however, is Bod. He is a fun, vibrant and engaging character and because of the way the novel is structured, you as a reader grows along with him. You follow him in his playfulness, his endearing compassion for others – dead or alive – and schemes to right wrongs. He’s perhaps a bit wise beyond his years, but who wouldn’t be when tutored by ghosts who’ve lived in all different kinds of eras. It takes a graveyard to raise a child, indeed.
The biggest strength of this book, however, is Gaiman’s writing. His prose is not the most elaborate or complicated poetry, but it’s evocative and emotive. Go and read the first chapter and tell me that’s not excellent writing, that it does not tickle your imagination. Go and read the last few pages and tell me you’re not moved. If writing is art, then Neil Gaiman is an artist and The Graveyard Book is a masterpiece. The wonderful illustrations by Dave McKean only add to the imagery of the tale and make it a complete experience for your eyes.
The Graveyard Book was my first of Neil Gaiman, but after reading this, I know two things for sure. One, graveyards will never be the same again to me. Their eeriness has become a place of possibility and growth. Second, this might have been my first, but it will definitely not be my last Neil Gaiman novel.
★ ★ ★ ★
Fancy a trip to the graveyard yourself? Book passage here!