Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Fantasy
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
Why did we read this book: Really? Because, obviously, we love Neil Gaiman. (The question should be why did it take us so freaking long to read this book!)
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy.
He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.
There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy-an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer.
But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family. . . .
Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, the graveyard book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.
Thea: I had been eagerly anticipating this book for months, stalking Neil Gaiman’s blog, gushing in emails with Ana. So, needless to say, I had some high expectations for this book–as I do for anything written by Neil Gaiman. And, once again, I found myself completely captivated by his work. The Graveyard Book is yet another stunning tale to add to the collection–with that same blend of lovely oddness and ethereal beauty that is Gaiman’s trademark. I fell in love with Bod and his strange, lovely Graveyard home, and finished this book with a full heart and a silly grin on my face.
Ana:I love Neil Gaiman’s books, he is my God of Writing and I have impossibly high expectations for his books as I had for this book in particular. The Graveyard Book was one of my Most Wanted of 2008 and I am glad to report that once again, Neil Gaiman did not fail me – from the stark horror of the first pages to the odd and yet beautiful tone as the story progresses, The Graveyard Book is a gem.
(Neil Gaiman is a freaking genius and I want to steal his DNA, create a1000 slave-clones and have them all sitting down writing stories for me.)
On the Plot:
One dark night, a man with a wicked knife and a cold heart makes his way through 33 Dunstan Road, killing the mother, father and daughter who live there. Quietly, the man Jack heads up the stairs to finish his terrible task, to murder the fourth member of the family, a baby boy. The boy, however, has escaped from his crib and slid down the stairs, following a misty path to the graveyard outside. The man Jack, infuriated, searches for the baby but cannot find him. He soon gives up his search, knowing that the baby will die on his own or be found soon enough, and then he will finish his task. The boy, however, is not abandoned to die. Instead, he is taken in by the ghostly residents of the graveyard, adopted by the old Owens couple, who had never had children of their own in life. With a shade named Silas, who is neither alive nor dead and can pass through both worlds, as the boy’s guardian, the baby is granted the Freedom of the Graveyard. The child is named, aptly, Nobody Owens. Bod, for short. And, it is thus that his strange young life begins.
The years pass and Bod grows from a baby into an inquisitive young child, growing up in the manner that all children do, except that he lives in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts. He learns to read from the gravestones, he learns history from spirits, and he adds a few ghostly aptitudes–Fading, Dreamwalking, Terror, etc–that other young children might not be so familiar with. All the while, he is kept in the graveyard, for the Owens’ and Silas know that outside the gates, the man Jack is still looking for Bod. But, a child’s curiosity can never really be repressed, and Bod manages to discover an ancient burial tomb, fall through a Ghoul Gate, dance the macabray, and make all manner of friends and enemies, both living and dead, on the path to his own destiny.
Thea: The Graveyard Book is a clever, clever tale about growing up. As I once read in a review of Neil Gaiman’s work, like many fairy tales and fables, this novel too has a bit of a sadistic streak. The innocent Bod whose family is murdered before his young eyes, is forced to take refuge in a world of the dead. It’s not lighthearted stuff–but to be perfectly fair, most fairy tales or young adult novels have a sort of cruel streak to them, which is something I appreciate mightily. It certainly makes for a much more interesting, human story. And when it comes down to it, that’s what The Graveyard Book does best–using ghosts and fantasies to tell the story of a very human, young man, eager to step out of the protection of the graveyard to live his life to its fullest.
The format of the book is that of a straight-forward novel, but each chapter reads almost as though it were a different story, or episode, of Bod’s life. On their own, each chapter is brilliant, chock full of fantasy and wonder–my favorites deal with Ghulheim and the Danse Macabre, and both are chapters which I could see being developed into separate novels or stories in their own right. The ending effect is certainly different from other prose works by Neil Gaiman–as opposed to Coraline, which tells a more linear story (over a much shorter time frame, I might add), The Graveyard Book moves through Bod’s young life in growths and stops, each adventure separate from the last, but all grandly coming together in the end. The effect is strange, a bit awkward and incongruous–but that too is what growing up is about, isn’t it? Although I must say I preferred the more storyteller voice and rhythm of Coraline, in the end, these scraps of stories and chapters of Bod’s life come together in an odd way that suits Bod–with his strange musty clothes and too-long hair–perfectly.
Ana:Odd, strange, dark: all words that can be safely used to describe this book. But also: beautiful, funny and clever.
Out of all the words , I think my favorite would be clever – the storytelling itself, the manner in which things happen but most of all the fact that Neil Gaiman never underestimates the reader: some things are a mystery to start with and some of them remain a mystery; there are no info dumps even though I would have loved to know more about the Honour Guard or the ghouls and their city Ghulheim for example; as Thea says each chapter is an adventure in its own – a chapter in the book, a chapter in the life of Bod but they do not sound as sequel bait and I will never expect a separate book for each of them (although yes, I would love to) .
One of the reasons why I love Gaiman’s work is that I feel he really never compromises on what he wants to do and where he wants to take his characters – he may be writing a fairy tale but he will * gasps * kill the unicorn (Stardust) – and it is very similar with The Graveyard Book as well. There may be adventure and fantasy but he will not shy away from pain and hurt and truths that Bod may not want to hear and it’s all the better for it. When you reach the end, it is clear that there was a direction to the story from the start even though at points, the plot seems disjointed – like small pieces of a glass mosaic, each having sublime colours and qualities of their own but when combined form a grander, whole picture.
On the Characters:
Thea: Oh, the strange and motley crew of characters! I love Neil Gaiman’s large and varied cast–from Bod to Silas and Miss Lupescu, to the Jacks of All Trades to Scarlett and the witch girl. Even characters met only briefly, like the poet Nehemiah Trot, are so varied and strange, they all come across as incredibly genuine. The true star of the novel, and the only true character to be ‘fleshed out’ (pardon my lame attempts at humor) of course, is Nobody himself. A dirty, scrawny child, Nobody is as curious and impatient as any other young boy. He sometimes does not listen to his parents (or his guardian), and he tries to run away, as most children fantasize about at some point or another. But, unlike the other children in the novel that grow up safe and warm among the living, Bod does not live in fear or denial and on more than one occasion he stands up for what he simply knows for what is right from wrong. Procuring a makeshift headstone, standing up to the bullies at school, using the lessons he has learned and putting them to good use, living up to his limitless potential–these are the things that Bod discovers and accomplishes. For a character named Nobody, Bod grows into the master of his own world, someone substantial and fully alive–and one can’t help but fall in love with this quirky, real young man.
Ana:I loved Bod – from the very start when he was only a baby it was clear that what propelled him was curiosity – a sense of wonder and need for adventure that at first saves his life but continuously put him in scrapes – and he gets away from them by putting his cleverness to good use and by using what he learnt from his dead teachers. I loved his lessons in how to Fade – and the fact that his teacher told him that he was “too obvious” . Nobody was indeed just somebody who as he grew up searched for identity…as anybody else.
Bod is a boy with the heart at the right place (there is a very sweet sequence when he goes out of the graveyard to try and get a headstone for the Witch girl who had been buried without one) but who is also a boy like any other – prepared to test the limits his parents and his Guardian Silas have given him.
Neil Gaiman says he took some inspiration from Kippling’s The Jungle Book to write The Graveyard Book but I had another tale in mind as I read it: Pinocchio (the Disney version). Both Pinocchio and Bod share the same need: to be a real boy.
Bod wanted to learn what it meant to be “living” but he was so deeply connected to the people at the graveyard and this dichotomy – the dead and the living – was incredible to read about. With a lot of subtle humour each of the inhabitants of the graveyard have a place and a moment to shine in the book and I loved all of them – but my favorite after Bod was Silas, his Guardian. I just loved how Gaiman never truly said in full words, Silas is a ……. instead he presented us with clues as to what he was – not truly alive, not truly dead, a character with a lot of depth , a mission and with a lot of heart. His interactions with Bod were amazingly poignant.
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: What more can I say? I loved this book. It lived up to my very high expectations, as Neil Gaiman always does. My only criticisms would be that the ending came too quickly, the Jacks of All Trades too dastardly and rushed. But despite these shortcomings, this is still an exceptional read. I still prefer Coraline–for all the unique wonder to this tale, there is something bewitching and terrifying about Coraline that just does it for me–but this is a book that should be read by young and old alike. As a coming of age tale, it is strong and bittersweet. I dare anyone to read this book and not fall in love with Bod and his own wonderful world. One of my top 10 reads for 2008!
Ana:I loved the Britishness of the book plain in the use of language and the quirkyness of small town Britain. I have an appreciation for small graveyards and old gravestones so I loved all the descriptions of the Graveyard in the book. I also appreciated, as I always do, how Gaiman brings to his story known figures of folklore and make them their own: on top of the ghosts that inhabit the graveyard there are also ghouls, werewolves, witches, vampires, the lady death etc. This is a very smart little book full of wonders and adventures and heart – as any good tale should be. I recommend it to children and adults alike. This of course, was the book I was waiting for to fill the last available position in my top 10 of 2008!
Thea: Has to be the dance of the dead. I love this passage:
His guardian looked at him with eyes like black pools and said, “I do not know. I know many things, Bod, for I have been walking this earth at night for a very long time, but I do not know what it is like to dance the Macabray. You must be alive or you must be dead to dance it–and I am neither.”
Bod shivered. He wanted to embrace his guardian, to hold him and tell him that he would never desert him, but the action was unthinkable. He could no more hug Silas than he could hold a moonbeam, not because his guardian was insubstantial, but because it would be wrong. There were people you could hug, and then there was Silas.
oh yes Thea! The dance of death – or Danse Macabre in the book – was my favorite chapter too as evidenced by the emails I sent you saying “this man is a freaking genius” ! By appropriating himself from this bit of Medieval folklore – whereupon on a certain night, the living and the dead dance together lead by Death herself – Gaiman wrote a chapter that is eerie, intense, interesting and cool. And it was clear then which place Bod really belonged to.
I was immediately reminded of this scene in the movie The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman:
Thea: Once again, The Graveyard Book features the tag team of Gaiman and artist extraordinaire Dave McKean. His black and white inks and pencils here mimic the style he used in Coraline (as opposed to say his work on The Sandman covers, or his more surreal stuff in The Wolves in the Walls or The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish). Personally, I lvoe anything this artist does–and his illustrations for The Graveyard Book make me nostalgic for the Roald Dahl books I used to read as a child. The art is heavier, more old-fashioned, and puts me in the mind of hard covered library books in protective plastic cases, with tattered, slightly mustier smelling pages…and I mean this in the best possible way. I absolutely love it.
What Thea said.
Also,I really like all 3 covers available:
The limited signed Hardback
The Hardback (this is the one I have):
The Children’s edition:
Thea: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Ana: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Reading Next: The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt