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The boy who lived...with the dead
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Member Name: pmcds
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Advantages: Gaiman, chapter style, imaginative
Disadvantages: Lacks depth, but fits with children's fiction style
Gaiman/Midas - it's all the same to me. Everything the guy touches seems to turn to gold. I mean, he has pioneered a modern style of comic book writing, he stretches the boundaries of children's fiction, has co-produced an awarded winning film (based on a comic book he created!) and has a silky way of putting words onto a page. He has even written an episode of Doctor Who!
Working my way through the recent World Book Day top 100 books, it was a no brainer which one to read next. The Graveyard Book is one that provides a sort of transition between children's and adult fiction - it appeals to both, in plot, style and presentation. Neil Gaiman writes what he wants, finding inspiration in all manner of places, and this time it started years ago with his 2 year old son on a tricycle in a graveyard.
Gaiman's story starts in gruesome fashion, warranting the warning that this will not be suitable the younger readers. A sinister character, the man Jack, slinks through a house, killing the two adults and one of the two children. The only remaining member of the family, a toddler, ambles out through the front door, up the hill and into the graveyard there. The boy subsequently meets, and is raised by, the ghosts inhabiting the graveyard, kept safe by the Guardian Silas, and as he grows older so does his curiosity for humanity and his will to get involved with the real world. Meanwhile, the man Jack travels the world, trying to find the boy he was sent to kill...
It's all a bit Harry Potter, mixed with the Jungle Book, and set in a graveyard. If you wanted to sum it up, this would be how. The book is split into 8 chapters, and while each one follows suit, they're almost like individual stories in themselves. Each chapter sees the young boy, named Nobody Owens by his adoptive ghost parents ('Bod' for short), have an adventure revealing different characters and exploring elements of the ghosts' world. Gaiman seems to use it as an excuse to reveal some of his more macabre creations, as well as some who have direct impact on the story.
It's interesting to see Bod grow up, and also the interaction he has at first with the ghosts in the graveyard, and then as he gets older he more sinister characters and then some of the living as Silas releases his strict rules to a certain extent and allow Bod to experience more of the world he should belong to. You get the feeling all throughout that we're not really being told very much, it's all done on trust and faith. Faith that the author knows what he is doing and that it'll be clear towards the end. I did find there was clarity, but the explanations were sparse and again assumed you would just accept them without the depth they may need.
Depth is actually an issue throughout the book, but then this is the mark of a children's book, and we mustn't forget that's what this book is, first and foremost. The lack of depth stretches throughout, with characters as well as events, so we get the purest of opinions of them. The loving ghost mother, the distant ghost father, the stern and defensive Guardian, the dark and murderous man Jack, the curious and inquisitive, eager to please Bod - and these are just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, it loses some of the visual elements the mind would conjure given more details, but the consistency justifies this enough to not affect enjoyment.
It's very well written, as all things Gaiman tend to be. I loved the imaginative elements, and the perception of those little things that you can't explain: the feeling someone is watching you, the shivers down your spine, thinking you've seen someone but there doesn't seem to be anyone there. This is part of the fantasy/sci-fi element that Gaiman often shows strength in, the darker nature of his writing character coming through here just as it did in Coraline. Incidentally, the director of the film adaptation of Coraline has also signed on to bring this book to the screen as well.
This gets a huge thumbs up from me. It's certainly refreshing to see a children's book that pushes the boundaries and doesn't sugar coat things, giving some darkness to events but maintaining the focus of appropriate style. This levels it out and I devoured this book. Lovely to read, the mystery for the reader as much as the characters. Exciting finish and a great book. Recommended.
Summary: Gaiman's award winning children's book about a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard