Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

This edition published in hardback by Bloomsbury, 2008.

I do love me some Neil Gaiman - he has done some terrific, wacky, original and touching (especially his shorter fiction) stuff over the years. And as a lover of children's fiction, The Graveyard Book has been on my radar since its release - even if I've only got to it now!

On the night his family is murdered, a toddler wanders into a graveyard, where the ghosts and supernatural residents who live there agree to raise him as one of their own. Bod, as he is named, grows up with all the dangers and adventures possible in a graveyard, but he is not allowed to leave - or the man Jack, who killed Bod's family, will kill Bod too.

Although The Graveyard Book was all the things I thought it would be - clever, magical, well-written, quirky - for me it lacked an emotional punch. I wanted it to kind of chew up all my emotions, as well as my imagination - like the best fantasy does. But I feel like it never quite got there.

Although certainly creative and well-written, I think the way The Graveyard Book is written might be part of the reason why I never really fell in love. It's very episodic, each chapter concerning an event every two years in Bod's life, with the threat of the man Jack hanging loosely over everything. Each chapter could be a short story, in fact I'm sure I have read some of the chapters in short story compilations, and all throughout the book I was in that weird, sometimes annoying state of going, 'I'm sure I've read this before.'

Gaiman's books have such a wonderful folklorish feel to them, and that is certainly present here. It's a special kind of gritty whimsy. The chapters about the ghoul-gate and the danse macarbe are the best kind of creepy and lovely respectively. That sense of the other, of longing for fantastic worlds just out of reach, is done with a great sense of understanding and love.

Gaiman's secondary characters are always a joy - I especially had a lot of love for Silas, Miss Lupescu and Liza. They are the kind of strange, mysterious and charming characters we make stories about as a kid. They, and others, provide just the right amount of wisdom and fun.

There are, of course, obvious metaphors - namely Bod growing up and learning about the world outside the graveyard, learning from his own mistakes, is reflective of any young person's journey into the unfamiliar world of adulthood. This is never done in twee or over-the-top ways. Bod is often thoughtless and makes mistakes but we see throughout the book how he learns from them and respects those he does ask for advice. The mistakes he makes always seem justified because we are put so fully in his head that we understand them - this is great, effective writing. Bod is quite an endearing little character and we see how his life and actions are enriched by others.

The Graveyard Book is lots of fun with some widsom and depth to boot, but not quite the emotional attachment to tie it all together. Book two in my quest to read 10 children's classics before the end of the year. Recommended.

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