The Graveyard Book
There are few writers out there today who have the ability to keep me totally spellbound. David Almond, for sure. A handful of adult novelists. One author who gets my undivided attention every time with his mastery of language and devotion to limitless imagination is Neil Gaiman. Whether he’s writing graphic novels, short stories, sci-fi novels or fiction for young adults, he always brings his “A” game to the table. His most recent work, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, takes his standard “A” game to a whole new level of measured storytelling.
Drawing inspiration from Rudyard Kipling’s classic THE JUNGLE BOOK, Gaiman tells the story of an orphaned boy, raised not in a jungle by animals but in a graveyard by ghosts. Bod, short for Nobody, wanders into the graveyard as an infant as his family is dispatched by “the man Jack.” In the graveyard, Bod is discovered by the kindly ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Owens, who entice the other local spirits to take the boy in and grant him the “Freedom of the Graveyard” (a special charm that gives Bod sanctuary within the graveyard’s boundaries). A being called Silas --- who is neither fully dead nor alive (and may actually be a vampire) --- is charged with being the boy’s guardian and seeing that he’s educated.
Bod’s childhood is filled with the varied lessons taught to him from the graveyard’s residents. His teachers include Miss Lupescu, a strict but sympathetic werewolf, and a witch named Liza Hempstock, who skulks about the graveyard’s unsanctified ground. But, as you’d expect, the graveyard is also full of dangers, such as the set of devious ghouls Bod encounters who go by names like the Duke of Westminster and the Thirty-Third President of the United States. But little prepares him for the day when the man Jack returns to finish the job he started years ago.
Although he tips his hat to Kipling, Gaiman skillfully makes the story his own with his boundlessly creative imagery and energetic prose. In crafting the tale of Bod, Gaiman revisits the occasionally dark and funny, and always enthralling, ground he covered in CORALINE. Many of the chapters stand alone as short stories, but every small adventure adds up to form a complete tale that feels timeless and important. And the climactic scene towards the end is not to be missed. Fans of his other works will not be disappointed, and there’s a very good chance he’ll amass an entirely new armada of admirers once word spreads about how phenomenal this book is.
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is, in a word, exceptional. Gaiman remains a force to be reckoned with, no matter the intended audience, regardless of the subject matter.
Reviewed by Brian Farrey on September 30, 2008