Monday, 23 February 2009

‘The Graveyard Book’ – Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury)


Ever since I read ‘Good Omens’, back in high school, I knew that Neil Gaiman was an author worth keeping an eye out for. In a strange twist of irony, ‘Good Omens’ would be the only book of his that I ever managed to find until a few years ago when I picked up ‘Neverwhere’ and never looked back. There’s something magical about Neil Gaiman’s work that would take a post all of it’s own to really get into, maybe I’ll do that another time...
In the meantime though, this post is all about Gaiman’s latest book for children, ‘The Graveyard Book’. I read this in one sitting over the weekend which says good things about the book as far as I was concerned! It didn’t quite hit the heady heights of some of his earlier books though. Not everything that Neil Gaiman touches turns to gold but ‘The Graveyard Book’ still manages to shine though...

Nobody Owens (Bod) is a boy much like any other. He has parents who love him, friends to play with and school to go to. The only difference (and it’s a big one) is that Bod is a boy growing up in a graveyard. Bod may still be alive but his adopted parents are not and neither are the rest of the occupants of the graveyard (not surprising really), his guardian is neither alive nor dead... The man who is trying to kill Bod (and did kill his real family) is very much alive however, Bod may not be alive for much longer unless he can use every trick he has learnt in the graveyard...

Neil Gaiman is very up front in acknowledging his debt to Rudyard Kipling over the inspiration for ‘The Graveyard Book’. The influence of ‘The Jungle Book’ is very apparent so I don’t suppose that Gaiman had a lot of choice really, fair play to him for being honest.
The problem I had though was that it felt to me that ‘The Jungle Book’ was an influence that weighed a little too heavily on Gaiman’s work, almost to the point where it didn’t let the story breathe. Gaiman puts a great spin on the original concept and tells a great story at the same time (more on that in a bit) but I kept finding myself thinking, ‘this is The Jungle Book in a graveyard’ while I was reading it. I know that’s the point of the book it felt a little too overdone for me. If you haven’t read, or seen, ‘The Jungle Book’, then obviously this wouldn’t be a problem at all.

The episodic structure of the book also felt a little bit disjointed to me. While it was a great way of introducing readers to the secrets of the graveyard it sometimes felt to me that there wasn’t an awful lot connecting the chapters until right at the end of the book. They felt very self contained and didn’t really flow well into one another as far as I was concerned... Having said that though, if ‘The Graveyard Book’ had been marketed as a short story collection it would have worked just fine...

Now all this may sound like I didn’t really think that much of ‘The Graveyard Book’ but (like I said earlier) I finished it off in one sitting and had a great time doing so. The book may feel a little disjointed but Gaiman still manages to tell a riveting story full of characters that I found myself wanting to get to know more and more (even the villain Jack). Bod’s journey through his formative years is funny and touching all at the same time, especially when you take into account the fact that he is being raised by ghosts that are hundreds of years dead and don’t have the first idea of what to do with a human child.
The graveyard itself is beautifully drawn with plenty of ivy and crumbling headstones to leave the reader in no doubt that graveyards can be really beautiful places. They can be dangerous places as well and Bod will find this out during the course of the book...

‘The Graveyard Book’ doesn’t come close to dislodging any of my favourite Gaiman books from their perch but I had a great time reading it nevertheless. It’s not without it’s faults but it’s still a good reminder of just how great a storyteller Neil Gaiman is.

Eight out of Ten

5 comments:

amuletts said...

You touch upon the reasons why I love Neil Gaimans writing. The ones you mention as favorates are mine, to. I'll definately be looking out for this one.

Hagelrat said...

Good omens remains my fave Gaiman and my Pratchett, but I love both authors for their other work too.

lilmzgee said...

I too loved Neverwhere. Will be looking forward to reading this one.

ediFanoB said...

This was the Valentine gift for my wife. We both didn't read it so far. I was just thinking about what to read next -beside my reading of THE BLACK COMPANY - but after reading your review I will go for "THE GRAVEYARD BOOK".

Graeme Flory said...

ediFanoB - Let me know what you think of 'The Black Company', it's a favourite of mine :o)