Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 4.40 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.09 / 5.00

I read this book as part of a Read Along organized by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings as part of his R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII Challenge.

Nobody Owens was extremely fortunate to have been a very adventurous toddler.

On the night that the man Jack came to murder his entire family, Nobody had already escaped from his crib, by the cunning use of a stuffed bear, and was able to toddle out of the front door, which Jack had left open. Once outside he then had the great idea of tottering up the road towards the graveyard and was cute enough to tug on the heartstrings of the very dead Mrs Owens, who had never had children of her own. So, when the man Jack arrived to finish his job, he found nothing beyond the locked gate but the very disquieting figure of Silas, who persuaded him that the young boy had actually gone down the hill and was not in the graveyard at all.

As Nobody / Bod grows up in his new home, he learns about ghoul gates and ancient Celtic barrow mounds, befriending werewolves, witches and the many ghosts that inhabit his graveyard. He also makes human friends and enemies, but the shadow of the man Jack is always hovering in the background.

One can never accuse Neil Gaiman of being too light and fluffy in his writing. Although this is a book aimed at young adults or older children, it is very dark from the very beginning. The idea of a strange man creeping through a house murdering everyone that he finds is a very unsettling start to the story, but it grabs you and pulls you into the action straight away. I would say that after the first page I was hooked and knew that I would enjoy the rest of the journey. It was also very obvious that Mr Gaiman has honed his craft since he wrote Neverwhere over a decade earlier. I am never quite sure what makes certain writers language so appealing, but I can definitely recognize it when I read it.

Throughout the book we have the lovely twist of traditionally scary aspects of story telling, such as graveyards, ghosts, witches, werewolves and vampires, turned into the safe and dependable. It is the humans that are the evil and scary monsters, and their world is always a danger to the young Bod. He must hide himself and avoid drawing any attention to himself in order to keep the man Jack at bay. We are also left guessing about many details of this world, which is revealed slowly to us and leaves many questions unanswered. For example, we are never told where the story is set, although it is obviously somewhere in England. This air of mystery is a wonderful change from many books that overload the reader with details and exposition. We are told the bare minimum of what we need to know, just as children often prefer only the bare bones of a story rather than all those annoying little details. The lack of detail also gives us a feeling for how disconnected Bod is from our world.

Bod himself grows into a very brave and compassionate young man. We see him always thinking about what he knows and learns, applying his knowledge to his world and questioning others to expand his knowledge base. He is a staunch friend and feels protective of others, especially those who cannot protect themselves. He can be rather impulsive and gets himself into some very scary situations on a regular basis. However, this is mostly due to his ignorance of the world and his trusting nature rather than to a rash disregard for his own safety.

Of the supporting cast, I would like to make a special mention of Silas. He is probably a vampire, although this is never specifically stated, and has a sad and lonely life, being neither truly dead nor alive. He agrees to be Bod’s guardian because he is the only person who can leave the graveyard and interact with the humans to bring Bod food, clothes, etc, but he becomes more of a mentor and friend. Although he is slightly cool and impassive, we eventually see Silas risking his existence to protect Bod, but in a quiet way that remains out of sight and practically not mentioned. He is such a wonderful antidote to all the sparkly or sex-crazed vampires that populate urban fantasy and paranormal romance these days and he remains so tragically alone that I felt a great deal of affection for him.

I can imagine this being a great book to read to children because it has a nice rhythm, with Bod getting into terrible danger only to be returned to safety at the end of each chapter. I can also see children anticipating the dangers that exist before Bod realizes what they are, which makes the danger seem so much more controlled and escapable. However, the danger is not without real threat and, by the end of the book, one of Bod’s favorite people has been killed to protect him.

My only major criticism of the book was that it was far too short. I wanted to read more about Bod and his world and to learn more about his friends and their past lives. A sequel would be greatly appreciated, as would an animated version produced and directed by Tim Burton!

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