In December last year I went to see Neil Gaiman speaking at the Athenaeum Theatre in a double-bill with Tom Stoppard (see “Stoppard and Gaiman, with a dash of Palmer”). In the week leading up to the event, I realised that I had not read any Gaiman since Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? at the end of 2010 (see “Comic Book Adventures”). A whole year without any Gaiman? This had to be rectified!
As I looked through my to-be-read pile, I found several Gaiman books, including, to my horror, The Graveyard Book. I had meant to read that book ages ago. At least I now had a good excuse to immediately move it to the top of the pile.
I started reading it the day before the Gaiman/Stoppard event, continued it on the train trip to and from the event, and finished it the day after. It’s a typical Gaiman book — utterly brilliant.
“… one day, there would be a child born who would walk the borderland between the living and the dead.”
A baby boy narrowly escapes when a mysterious man named Jack murders his family. He is adopted by the residents of a graveyard — a ghostly couple becoming his new parents and a vampire named Silas agreeing to be his guardian. Since none of the ghosts are able to leave the graveyard or interact with the physical world, it is Silas’s job to bring food for the boy. His new parents name the boy Nobody, or Bod for short, and he is granted “the Freedom of the Graveyard”, allowing him to see as the ghosts do and to go anywhere within the graveyard regardless of lock and key.
As Bod grows up he has adventures within and outside of the graveyard. But during all that time, the mysterious Jack is searching for him, waiting for his chance to finish the job, waiting for the opportunity to kill Bod.
This books has all the Gaiman trademarks…
An unusual concept as a starting point — the idea of a human child being raised by ghosts and other supernatural creatures.
Fascinating characters. Bod is a believable and likeable child, and we get to see him growing up and learning and developing into a responsible young man. Each and every ghost has his or her own quirks and personality traits, consistent with the eras of death. The murderous Jack is strangely compelling despite being evil. And then you have Silas and his friend, Miss Lupescu. These two are my favourites. The vampire who is never actually referred to as a vampire and the werewolf, who prefers to be called one of the “Hounds of God”.
Mythology. If there is one thing that is so very Gaiman, it’s the fact that his work has such mythic (and epic) qualities. From Sandman to American Gods, from his last Batman story to his Doctor Who episode, his tales and soaked in myth. And here in The Graveyard Book, he presents us with such wonderful mythology — the Hounds of God; the order within the graveyards with their hierarchy, their Ghoul-gates and their secrets; the way the dead and the living dance the Macabray when the winter flowers bloom in the graveyard; and the chilling, ages-old secret society, the Jacks of All Trades, to which the murderous Jack belongs. All of this creates such a wonderfully rich backdrop to the story. I know of no other author who handles this stuff with such skill.
I guess The Graveyard Book is a children’s book, in the same way as Coraline. The protagonist is a child, and the storyline is one that is sure to keep children entertained. But like the best of children’s books, it also has much to offer readers of all ages. There are layers in this novel — layers upon layers — waiting to be discovered. It’s the sort of book that would be good to re-read at different stages of life. I wish this book had been around for me to read as a child. To those who have read it as children, I urge you to keep your copies and re-read them as teenagers, and again as adults. I’m certain you’ll find new things each time.
I have the edition that’s been illustrated by Dave McKean. Evocative and sometimes eerily disturbing, these black and white drawings are a perfect accompaniment to Gaiman’s text. No surprise here, as McKean is a long-time collaborator of Gaiman’s. There is another edition with illustrations by Chris Riddell. I’ve only seen the cover illustration from this edition, which is quite different to McKean’s style. I must get a copy so I can compare.
I’ve just had another glance at my to-be-read pile. I’m very pleased that there are still some Gaiman books in there that I’ve not yet read. I am so looking forward to discovering them.
Catch ya later, George
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