Oct 10, 2008

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book tells the story of Nobody Owens, a boy whose whole family is murdered in the dead of night when he is only a toddler. The man who holds the knife, Jack, wants to finish the job. But the toddler makes his way to a nearby graveyard, where the dead – and one who belongs neither to the living nor to the dead – decide to protect and raise him. Mr and Mrs Owen, who have been dead for a few centuries, become his adoptive parents, and the mysterious Silas becomes his guardian.

Over eight chapters, or stories, we watch Bod grow from a toddler into a young man. We watch him walk the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and gather knowledge about both. And in the end, we watch him learn the meaning of being alive.

Most of The Graveyard Book takes place, obviously enough, in a graveyard. There are ghosts aplenty, and there are older and perhaps more dangerous things. There are eerie moments and creepy bits. But the truly dark moments in this book have nothing to do with the graveyard or with the dead. This is a book where the haunted, cobwebsy things are the ones that can be trusted, the ones that feel safe.

In many ways, Bod’s story is a dark one. But more than darkness, The Graveyard Book is full of warmth. This is not a book that sugar-coats reality, but it’s a book full of tenderness and kindness all the same. It's a book where a graveyard can be a home because it’s much safer than the world outside. As the story progress, we feel Body’s change and growth, we watch him discover who he is and what he cares about. And we watch him leave the boundaries, move from the inbetween to life. We watch him leave the safety of his home. After all, we don’t want to be too safe, do we? If we are, are we truly alive? Life is full of risks, and if we don't take them there's only so much we can do.

The Graveyard Book, then, deals with themes like childhood, change, risks, courage, and the things you lose and the things you gain. And it handles them very well. Like all my other favourite authors who write for children, Neil Gaiman acknowledges and respects his reader’s intelligence regardless of their age. Take these two lovely passages, for example:
“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.”
And:
Bod said, “I want to see life. I want to hold it in my hands. I want to leave a footprint on the sand of a desert island. I want to play football with people. I want,” he said, and then he paused and he thought. “I want everything.”
The Graveyard Book is a subtle and intelligent book. It’s nuanced and full of important little details, but very accessible all the same. I loved all the nods to The Jungle Books. They add another layer to the story, but the reader doesn’t have to be familiar with Kipling to enjoy this book. For example, “The Hounds of God” is even more satisfying if you notice the parallels with “Kaa's Hunting”, the third story in The Jungle Book. But it’s perfectly enjoyable even if you don’t.

Then there are other details, like the surnames of the several Jacks, or the way the ghosts who died at different points in history speak. Paying close attention to the way language is used in this book makes it even more fun. And there’s the writing itself, of course, which is Neil Gaiman at his best. There’s just something so satisfying about a sentence like Nothing was said. Just a silence in reply, that echoed of dust and loneliness.

If I were to complain about anything, it would be about the fact that The Graveyard Book is too short. I wanted more of Bod, of Liza, of Scarlett, of Miss Lupescu, of Silas. I wanted the stories in between the stories. But the best writers know that it’s probably not a good idea to satisfy your readers completely. Longing stays with you. Unanswered questions stay with you for much longer than neat endings. The Graveyard Book leaves you wanting more without actually being inconclusive. And that's my favourite kind of ending.



Still, I already want to read it again.

Other opinions:
Orpheus Sings the Guitar Electric
The Written World
Jenny’s Books
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Stainless Steel Droppings
Books & Other Thoughts
The Bluestocking Society
dreaming out loud
Melody's Reading Corner
Booknotes by Lisa
A High and Hidden Place
Bart's Bookshelf
You Can Never Have Too Many Books

Bold.Blue.Adventure
Nothing of Importance
Fizzy Thoughts
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Becky's Book Reviews
Hello, My Name is Alice
Sophisticated Dorkiness
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Valentina's Room
Katrina's Reads
Rhinoa's Ramblings
where troubles melt like lemon drops
somewhere i have never travelled
Tip of the Iceberg
Stella Matutina
Worducopia
Books of Mee
Book Zombie
Everyday Reads
A Book a Week
Kiss a Cloud
Passionate Booklover

(Let me know if I missed yours.)

33 comments:

Daphne said...

I can't wait to read this... my Neil Gaiman reading got waylaid by Life, unfortunately... but I still intend to read this book ASAP! It sounds wonderful. And your review is beautiful. Thanks.

Lightheaded said...

I am so looking forward to reading this. Soon, soon, soon :)

valentina said...

ahhaaaa I'm reading this now and I don't want to read your review before I finish it! I know there's no spoilers but just in case. I just wanted to share my excitement when I saw the book in the deliveries...it wasn't supposed to arrive till the end of the month! I was so happy, I started going around with the book showing to everybody, but they weren't very impressed.

Chris said...

How'd I guess that you'd love it?! You went through this one just as quick as me! Wasn't it a beautiful book? So hard to put down, but at the same time I just wanted to keep putting it down so it would last longer. I'm ready to read it all over again too. I miss the characters already. Very bittersweet. And I LOVE that Tori song. Beautiful.

Nymeth said...

Daphne: I'm sorry to hear that....life has a way of getting in the way sometimes, doesn't it? I hope you enjoy the book!

Lightheaded: You'll looove it!

Valentina: It's always sad when people don't get our excitement, isn't it? I did a little dance when I got my cope, but luckily nobody was watching :P I really look forward to seeing what you think of it!

Chris: I wonder how you guessed indeed :P It was beautiful, and like you said, bittersweet. That's really the perfect word for it. I wanted to make it last, but even though I couldn't read it for more than an hour altogether yesterday, I still finished really fast today. I just couldn't put it down. And I love the Tori song too...I was so excited when I saw that bit of the lyrics at the end. I listened to it a bunch of times after I finished the book, and it fit the mood I was in perfectly.

Charley said...

I've never read Neil Gaiman, and I'm not sure where to start, but I'd definitely like to read this one some day.

xicanti said...

The more I hear about this, the more I want to get my hands on a copy! Soon; soon.

Kim L said...

I can't wait to read this. As soon as my husband finishes our copy...

Ladytink_534 said...

I've got a hold placed on this at the library for when it comes in.

mari said...

I can't wait to read this. :)

Melody said...

What a great review, Nymeth! I'm glad you enjoyed the book! :) I just started this book yesterday and now I can't wait to read till the rest!

Hope you've a great weekend.

naida said...

great review...i've been wanting to read this one too. I read Coraline and loved it.
http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

Darla D said...

I'm so glad (but not at all suprised) to hear you enjoyed it. Excellent review!

Nymeth said...

Charley: Normally I recommend that people start with Coraline or Stardust, both because they are probably the most accessible and because they're short, and thus a quick way to find out whether or not you like his writing. But I think The Graveyard Book would be a perfect introduction too.

Xicanti: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :)

Kim: Steal it from him :P You know you want to :P

Ladytink, hope it does soon!

Mari: Enjoy it!

Melody, I really look forward to comparing notes with you :) You have a great weekend too!

Naida: I love Coraline, but you know, I think I enjoyed The Graveyard Book even more.

Darla, thank you :)

fuzzycricket said...

I'm convinced. I'll add this one to my wishlist. The quotes you used were perfect. It takes great skill to combine such dark elements with warmth and hope.

Carl V. said...

It certainly went by too quickly, as all good things do, but I think it was the perfect. The risk of writing a longer book is that it could start getting repetitive or feel like filler material. I was sad when it was over but it is such a satisfying book that it will make for many enjoyable rereads in the future. I'll certainly add your review to my list once my site is back up and running well.

Bookfool said...

Ah, darn. Gotta find a copy. Just have to.

marineko said...

This is a good review! I reviewed it a week before the US release (the UK edition came in a lot faster), but I didn't think I did the book justice. Your review, however, is spot on. :)

Book Zombie (Joanne) said...

Wonderful review! I can't wait to get a copy of this.

I really liked this particular point you made: "It's a book where a graveyard can be a home because it’s much safer than the world outside."

Loved the Tori video too, so beautiful.

Nymeth said...

fuzzycricket: It really does, and Neil Gaiman does it better than anyone!

Carl: I agree with you that it was perfect as it was, and although I wanted more I don't think it should have been longer. Does this make sense? I actually like being left wanting more. It's a wonderful feeling, isn't it? And I hope the site's back soon!

Bookfool: yes you do :P

marineko: Thank you, I'm happy to hear you think so :) Let me go over to read your review now.

Book Zombie: I just loved that about the book. I hope you enjoy it! And isn't that little song lovely? Plus I think it really fits the mood of the story.

Alice Teh said...

Hi Nymeth, looks like I gotta start reading this now, now, now. You've tempted me. I can't bear to have that book looking at me, and it's sitting on my study desk at home...

Pasifik said...

It's detail review from you, great!


Keep posting,

TODDLER BOOKS

Dewey said...

I ordered this a while ago, and it's taking forever to arrive! I should check on that. I'm glad to see you liked it, because I'd read a couple lukewarm reviews, but you and I seem to enjoy the same books, most of the time.

Nymeth said...

Alice: can't wait to see what you think!

pasifik, thanks

Dewey: I had some trouble getting it too. I pre-ordered it from Amazon in August, and two days after the release day they still hadn't shipped it, and e-mailed me with a new delivery estimate according to which I'd get the book in mid-November. So I cancelled and got it from a UK marketplace seller. Similar things happened to other people, both at online and at physical bookstores....I wonder if they underestimated how much the book would sell or something. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

Trish said...

LOL--that's a lot of reviews for a book that was just released! I guess a lot of anticipation. I know exactly where you are coming from with books being too short--and that's how I felt about Stardust.

Nymeth said...

Trish: it seems that a lot of bloggers ran to get this book as soon as it was out! Stardust left me wanting more too, but in a good way. And you know, even American Gods, which is a chunkster, left me wanting more :P That's actually one of the things I like about Neil Gaiman...how he makes you wish that his stories would continue endlessly.

ken said...

What a wonderful review (as if that's unusual!), you really captured the things that make Bod's story so special...and you're right about the way Gaiman ended the story - the longing stays with you...

Amazon shipped it to me on time (lucky me!) and I read it in one all night session, now I'm reading it aloud to my wife - a chapter a night - and I'm enjoying it even more (if that's possible) the second time around...

I LOVE the Kipling references, and I'm picking up more of them the second time around - great fun!

...and thanks for the Tori video!

Nymeth said...

Ken, reading this book aloud to your wife sounds like a wonderful experience! I can imagine that even more neat little things are noticeable the second time around. Just thinking back on the book makes me notice some parallels I didn't pick up while reading. For example, chapter 4 and "The King’s Ankus" - "it always comes back". Somehow I suspect I'll be re-reading it before long.

Carl V. said...

Makes perfect sense, I said something similar to a friend the other day. It left me perfectly satisfied...wanting a bit more but glad it wasn't there at the same time.

Em said...

I've heard so many good things about this one. I can't wait to read it! :)

Susan said...

I just finished reading it yesterday!!! I'll send you the link in minute, but I'm still adding other blogging reviews right now.
I have to say I agree that the book left me wanting more, but not sure if that would be good. In fact, I ended up visualizing Bod at the end of his life, and wondered if he would gain his ghostly abilities if he neared death! :-) I love all the characters too. Good review, Nymeth. And you gave one of my favourite quotes, that I didn't use in my post! *sigh* he's such a good writer, isn't he?

Terri B. said...

I just finished reading this booked and I loved it! You've written a great review which I've linked to over at my place.

Joanne said...

Just letting you know I've added your link to my review of this here.