In a nutshell: A fine read primarily aimed at the junior reader, but with enough maturity to be able to be enjoyed by all. The Graveyard Book has the potential to be a future classic in the same vein as the one that inspired it, The Jungle Book (and other greats such as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard in Oz and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe etc.), and for that reason alone I consider this novel unmissable.
Rather than waste any time providing a synopsis for this novel I’ll direct you to my forethoughts where you’ll be able to read a brief intro on the story together with some relevant links of interest.
So on to my afterthoughts and in his acknowledgments Gaiman credits more than a passing nod for this novel to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a childhood favourite of his, and while the chief protagonist of the novel Bod, can certainly fit into Mowgli’s loin cloth, I didn’t really feel that there was much of a relationship between the two, other than a child growing up in a unique environment. Then again I read Jungle Book with child eyes many years ago, and this I read as a mature adult, so my perspective is somewhat different. More delightful for me perhaps (mainly because of the romantic notion it throws up), is the author’s revelation that the inspiration for The Graveyard Book came after watching his two year old son pedaling his tricycle between the gravestones of a church one summer.
So from the outset I think I’ve established that The Graveyard Book is a title primarily aimed at the more junior reader, and fundamentally it is. That said the narrative is certainly more than mature enough to be read by all ages and I certainly didn’t feel at any point that I was reading a book that was too young for me. In fact the publishers have seen fit to release this title in both a child’s and adult’s version so it’s accessible for all. Being frugal I actually bought the child’s version (it was available at a discounted price :o)), and I’m glad I did because it’s got some really nice illustrations throughout from accomplished artist Chris Riddell.
On to the story itself and The Graveyard Book is hugely fantastical (what story about a baby being adopted by ghosts wouldn’t be?), but that’s The Graveyard Book’s quality – pure unadulterated escapism. The story is well-paced, tight and easily read and with this novel at least (because it’s the only one of his novels I’ve read), Neil Gaiman shows himself to be a great storyteller. If he were around in times of lore then he would undoubtedly be the one wandering the medieval countryside with his lute, entertaining the townsfolk with his tales of wonderment :o). Gaiman’s put a lot of cleverness into this story with some neat plot twists that ensure the pages keep turning.
Aside from the plot twists I loved following Bod’s interactions with the ghosts of the graveyard, and his attempts to adopt the ghostly attributes which would prove useful to him in his unique position. Undoubtedly however, the main success of the storyline comes from Bod’s growing angst at being kept from the world outside the graveyard. It’s a problem that increases as Bod grows older and its fundamentally an exploration of growing up, but it’s growing up in a wholly unique environment, and that’s what makes the story so compelling.
As anyone who has read any of my former book reviews would know, my biggest passion is for good characterisation. I’m not so bothered about story or plot (although they help of course) but good characters mean everything to me; so much so that this aspect on its own can often make the difference between a novel being good or bad for me. Well, I’m happy to proclaim that Gaiman has created a really well-rounded charismatic character in the chief protagonist Bod, and if he were looking to create an equal to rival Kipling’s Mowgli then I think he’s succeeded, admirably. Silas, Bod’s vampiric guardian, is another well realised character in this novel. He’s a character that comes across with a great deal of enigmatic depth, and the phrase ‘still waters run deep’ comes to mind when I think of him. I also think that this is the first time EVER that I’ve been so endeared to a character who is traditionally considered to be an icon of horror.
Sadly however that’s where the good characterisation diminishes somewhat for me, and with the possible exception of ‘the man Jack’, all of the other characters come across as being somewhat flat and mere ‘players’ in the story. Don’t get me wrong, the portrayal of the other characters is certainly adequate, more than enough to ensure the novel keeps its gleam, but given the richness of character that could have been realised with such an imaginative cast of ghostly figures, I would have liked to have seen some of the other characters being better developed, at least up to the same standard as Silas.
In closing then the main question remaining is whether this is a novel that I recommend reading? Well if you’re a junior then absolutely. It’s a fantastic novel with a flowing, interesting storyline that juniors are certain to love. I promise! :o)
What about the more mature reader? Well as I’ve said above it’s marketed towards all ages and the story has enough maturity to make it a novel for all ages. It’s certainly a light read so if your expecting something as deep and engaging as a Tolstoy or Murakami then you’re going to be disappointed. However, if it’s a light read you’re after then I can think of no better. It entertained me completely and as a reader who normally gets his kicks from the more dense prose of writers such as Steinbeck, Doestovsky and Hamsun etc. that’s a big achievement. Bearing that in mind I’m confident that The Graveyard Book will entertain just about anyone. Go buy it!
Notable Quote: “You were given the Freedom of the Graveyard, after all,” Silas would tell him. ”So the graveyard is taking care of you. While you are here, you can see in the darkness. You can walk some of the ways that the living should not travel. The eyes of the living will slip from you.”
Favourite Scene: For many reasons, Bod’s encounter with Abanzar Bolger, an unscrupulous antique-dealer.