The Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman
Rating: 5 Stars+
‘When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing his entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him – after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod’s life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?’
So I was meant to be reading Throne of Jade next, then I thought I’d just have a look what the illustrations are like in this version of The Graveyard Book and I never ended up putting it back down (incidentally the illustrations are beautiful). When I first bought my copy I was kicking myself for not being able to get my hands on the Riddell Illustrated version in the UK as I adore his drawing style. I need not have worried, Dave McKean has done a sterling job and I love his use of curves, silhouettes and merely suggested lines – sublime.
Anyway, back to the book. You know what you’re gonna get going into this: Gaiman at his unnervingly endearing best. Gaiman writes children and childhood so well – just look at Ocean At The End Of The Lane for evidence of that. The fact that he can still do this with a child essentially being raised in a graveyard, by the dead, after the murder of his family is really stunning.
Gaiman takes us on a winding ride through a series of short stories marking turning points in Bod’s life and we meet some wonderfully colourful characters along the way. Despite his unconventional upbringing Bod manages to have incredibly similar experiences to other children. He has to learn to make friends, to share, to deal with bullies and injustice, to stand up for himself and what he believes in and, most importantly, when to let go. You will be happy to be taken along for the ride as he learns to navigate the world. You’re going to love the inhabitants of the graveyard, Silas and Miss Lupescu, be equally entertained and horrified by the ghouls, intrigued by the Sleer and disturbed by Jack in all his forms. Basically, you’re going to be enchanted.
The end of the novel is a masterpiece in surprise and story weaving when we get to see just what Bod has learnt as he’s grown up and I defy you to read the last few pages without a lump in your throat. The ending encapsulates the best of this book, the laughter, the wry observation and the pathos which serves to make it both uplifting and heart-breaking in equal measure.
The story of this book’s creation is that Gaiman kept trying to write it again and again over a number of years, but each time deciding he wasn’t ready yet. I think this is a lesson in patience that has been incredibly rewarding for both the writer and the reader. The Graveyard Book is a slim volume but the world compressed inside its pages is unfathomably large and rewarding.