Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: June 15 to 17, 2013
Read count: 1

There’s a boy who lives in a graveyard, and he’s called Nobody Owens, affectionately “Bod” for short. The story starts at night with the massacre of his family, quite a gruesome beginning for a children’s book but fitting for a child who goes on to live among the dead. He alone miraculously escapes death and wonders into the graveyard down the street, where he is adopted by a kindly pair of spirits and raised by the whole dearly departed community.

Despite his tragic beginning, Bod turns out to be a well-adjusted child. He encounters and befriends all sorts of otherworldly creatures, and they all teach him important lessons which he uses later in life. Throughout his childhood, he has a fairly pleasant existence. The dead often warn him against leaving the safety of the graveyard, but you know children… they tend to become curious as they grow.

While all this is going on, the murder/assassin still searches for the boy. He’s still on a mission to end what he started all those years ago.

Like most children’s books I’ve come across in recent years, particularly A Monster Calls, this is a book for adults written in the style of children’s literature. This is probably not a book for children. Probably. Well… I’m sure children would like it and find the graveyard aspects fascinating. I just don’t think they’d appreciate it as much as an older reader, who has read across genres and understands classic scary-story tropes, would.

 

When it comes to Neil Gaiman books, I haven’t had the best track record and all of my reading experiences have been the same. They’d start out interesting, then become great once the stories gets going, but somehow wind up being mediocre near the end and then fizzle out at the end.

Gaiman is a great writer and an even greater storyteller. I’ve attended a couple of his readings and loved the passages he picked to read, but somehow I’m always let down by his stories. Or, more accurately, his endings. It’s unsettling because I want to like them–they’re great stories. Moreover, I think he has found that unique balance between literary fiction and magical realism that appeal to so many readers, that so many authors are still searching for. But the endings… just don’t work for me.

So I went into The Graveyard Book with some hesitation. Since it’s a children’s book, I expected it to be shorter and simpler than his other works. It’s certainly shorter, but no less simpler than the others or any text that deals with the great divide between life and death. I see this story as written with a child’s perspective in mind while accompanied by a grown-up narration, and the result is you get an terribly precocious child whose mind processes disturbing information at an unusually serene (read: not dysfunctional) rate. He’s still a child though, still prone to childish impulses and flight of fantasy, yet he’s far too “grown up” for his age.

That’s not to say I didn’t like the story, which I did. It’s a well written story with a tight plot and great ending.

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