The Graveyard Book was my first Neil Gaiman novel. Despite the fact that bloggers seem to have a special fondness for Gaiman, I just never felt inclined to give his books a read. I’m not a huge fan of fantasy (I’m not sure why) and I’m also less inclined to read something just because the crowd is reading it. That said, I was amazed by this book.
I sat and read the first 25 pages or so in the library after I picked it up, while my son played with the puzzles in the children’s area. It was engaging. So at about 9:30 or 10 p.m., I thought I’d read a little more to help me fall asleep.
I stayed up to finish it.
I never do that. My son awakes between 6 or 7 a.m. no matter what time I go to bed, so I’m usually eager to get my sleep. But there was something about The Graveyard Book that kept my attention. There’s something about the world and characters Gaiman creates that is familiar and fun. Although The Graveyard Book takes place (appropriately enough) in a graveyard and the main character is a boy raised by ghosts and the undead, it was familiar to me and yes, it was fun. How did Gaiman do that? I’m not sure.
I think Gaiman’s mastery is of the familiar story-telling tone. It is written in such an easily accessible tone that I couldn’t help but turn the page to find out what happens next. The stories are interesting as well. We are not familiar with life in a graveyard, but Bod’s little adventures with the ghosts that reside there are told in a way that I want to know what comes next. Overall, it was incredibly well done.
All that said, I think parents should read this book before handing it to young kids, for it does have scary themes that not all children could deal with. Nobody Owens (Bod) is raised in a cemetery, with his main guardian a vampire. (If you read my recent post on Dracula, you’ll know that I’m not keen on vampires.) There is also a scary creature (called a Sleer) in a tomb that may disturb children, and ghouls kidnap Bod.
The scariest parts, however, revolve around the humans that are trying to kill him. The first sentence jarred me (a man with a knife), and the entire first chapter is about how a scary man murders a family, minus the baby who escapes (the infant Bod). The underlying plot of that first chapter is incredibly sinister, and yet it doesn’t seem scary. The murder returns in a later chapter, and Bod is truly a child in danger.
I’m not saying children shouldn’t read this book. The non-scary tone reminded me of Roald Dahl’s books (which I haven’t read since I was a child). Dahl’s books had scary and supernatural elements, but there were overall lots of fun. The Graveyard Book felt similar in playfulness, despite the murderer and ghost setting.
Apparently, Gaiman was inspired by The Jungle Book (reviewed here) to write The Graveyard Book. I can see the resemblance, as some of the plot elements (the kidnapping, the return to society) were similar. I can’t say which I prefer; I enjoy both of them. I just hope Gaiman doesn’t try to write a sequel to The Graveyard Book. It’s great as it is (and sequels ruin good things for me).