Book review: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
I was chatting with a friend not long ago about Neil Gaiman’s writing style, and we agreed that his is an authorial voice you either like or you don’t: my friend doesn’t like it, but I do. A lot. Gaiman has a knack of adapting to whatever genre he’s writing in, but his work always has a sense of the very old, the very deep, and the very strange.
I started The Graveyard Book with high expectations, and wasn’t disappointed: Like all the best children’s literature, it’s wildly imaginative, seductively scary, and a sophisticated read for both kids and adults.
Loosely inspired by The Jungle Book, Graveyard is the story of a baby who escapes from the ruthless killer who’s murdered his parents, and escapes to a very old graveyard. Rechristened Nobody “Bod” Owens, he’s raised by the graveyard’s ghostly inhabitants and encounters vampires, werewolves, witches and other beasties as he grows up. (The Guardian has a more detailed, though mildly spoilery, synopsis; I recommend going into it without knowing about the plot’s direction.)
It kind of reminded me of Harry Potter, if Harry Potter‘s sprawling story was condensed into a single book: Graveyard has the same magical, captivating and adventurous tone. I felt really sad when I turned the last page, both because of the way the plot wrapped up, and because I’d finished a really great book.
Each chapter advances Bod’s age by around two years and stands alone as a story (more or less), making this a breezy read. If you never read anything of Gaiman’s before, this is a fine entry point.1
Gaiman has proposed writing more books exploring the backstory of the Graveyard universe, but with a darker, more adult tone – a sort of “The Lord Of The Rings, to which The Graveyard Book would have been The Hobbit“, in his words. I want to read that book so bad. Right now. (Especially since the propects of a Graveyard Book movie aren’t looking so hot right now.)
- After you finish Graveyard, try his short story collection Fragile Things. Then move along to American Gods and Anansi Boys, or maybe Coraline (which I haven’t read, yet, though the movie adaptation is stellar), if you’re looking for more “kiddie” stuff. I haven’t sampled Sandman yet, but I plan on getting to it one day. [↩]