The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Forgive me Readers, for I have sinned; I am ashamed to admit it but Neil Gaiman only hit my radar a matter of months ago. There you go, I’ve said it; until a few months ago I was a Neil Gaiman virgin and none the wiser. I’m writing this whilst hanging my head in shame – no mean feat I can tell you, but I did promise to ‘bare all’ in this blog.
I first came across his name after reading my favourite novel of 2013 so far, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – which, I’ll be honest, is unlikely to be beaten any time soon. Simon Toyne’s Sanctus comes a close second for the pure enjoyment/escapism factor but The Night Circus absolutely knocked me sidewise; it is a truly magical read. I have intentionally NOT reviewed it because I don’t think I could ever do it justice. Take my advice and just read it. Preferably now. You won’t regret it. See how beautiful it is?
Anyway, once I’d closed the book and picked myself up off the floor I started following Erin on twitter and she recommended Gaiman’s latest book – The Ocean at the End of the Lane, long before it was released on the 18th June. I am so in awe of her and her novel that frankly, I think I’d read anything she recommends. I immediately added it to my wish list but despite being an avid reader I rarely pre-order or buy a book when it first comes out. I don’t like hardbacks for starters; I much prefer the look and feel of a well-thumbed paperback. (Question – do you ever pre-order books and if so, which ones have you pre-ordered most recently? Leave me a comment).
Recently I headed along to Erin’s blog and came across this quotation: ‘I would not be the writer I am today without Neil Gaiman. I’m not sure I would even be a writer at all without him’. Well, that was it. I had to read a Neil Gaiman and I had to read it NOW. I decided to begin my Gaiman journey with The Graveyard Book.
From the moment I started reading it I started hearing Neil Gaiman mentioned all over the place. Isn’t that always the way?
The blurb says:
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard being raised and educated by ghosts.
There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard. But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.
When we first meet Bod at the start of the book, unbeknown to him his whole family have just been murdered in their beds. I was hooked from the incredibly lyrical first line: ‘There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife’. It reminded me vividly of the wonderfully creepy children’s story Funnybones by Janet and Allan Ahlberg: ‘On a dark dark hill, there was a dark dark town. In the dark dark town there was a dark dark street’.
The child escapes the house by chance and wanders into the local graveyard where the ghosts of the motherly Mrs Owens and her husband ‘foster’ him and name him ‘Bod’. The neither wholly alive nor wholly dead Silas is appointed his guardian and brings supplies and food from ‘outside’, and the story tracks his life in the graveyard until his teenage years, when he at last comes to confront the murderer of his family.
Over 306 pages and 8 chapters, Gaiman’s plotting and characterisation are faultless and the story flew by. The novel has been described as a supernatural take on Rudyard Kiping’s coming-of-age tale, The Jungle Book (Wordsworth Children’s Classics). The comparison is certainly credible. The cast of characters are so carefully drawn that despite nearly all of them being dead, they are somehow very much brought to life. Most memorable for me are the dead fuss-pot Mr Pennyworth, The Lady on the Grey, a human girl called Scarlett, a temperamental witch called Eliza and Miss Lupescu who resembles a supernatural strict school Ma’am (with a soft middle). My overall favourite has to be Silas though, who I became very attached to. Despite being gruff, cold and distant a lot of the time, he displays great love and affection for Bod and comes to treat him as a son.
The story isn’t all warm and fuzzy though. Far from it! After all, it is set in a graveyard and is certainly suitably creepy in places. There is one area of the Graveyard called The Barrow where the scary Sleer are lurking, at one point Bod enters the truly terrifying realm of Ghulheim and at another he watches a Danse Macabre. Underlying the supernatural elements, there is also the sense of a very real threat running throughout the story.
I absolutely loved all its twists and turns and darkness, and the illustrations in my copy by Chris Riddell just perfectly complement the creepiness. If you love Fairy Tales (who doesn’t love Fairy Tales?) or haven’t read one for years, give it a go. You won’t be disappointed.