For years now I’ve been asked—nay, HARRASSED—by various friends to pick up a Neil Gaiman book. Author of such famed books as comic Sandman, novel American Gods (amongst many others), and kid’s books coming out the wazoo, he’s a prolific writer of many talents, a man of good looks, great to his fans (get a tattoo, post it online, he’ll love you forever and tell you so) and an all-round fantastic guy who supports important political views and charities.
The readership of The Graveyard Book probably doesn’t give a toss about his politics, however. Aimed squarely at the nine-plus market, but, as with the rest of his books, undeniably readable for grown-ups, this book was where I started finally reading Neil Gaiman. If you’re going to start somewhere with a new author, may as well make it something you can finish in a couple of hours, so if it’s terrible you haven’t wasted to much of your precious life. Good news: it ain’t terrible! His enormous fan base is probaby unsurprised to hear this.
The book begins in a very gloomy way, as a man makes his way through an English home with a blood-soaked knife by his side. He has come to this house to kill a family, and has succeeded, mostly—except for one member, a young baby who toddles his way out of the house to the graveyard on the hill. There, aware of the horrors his family endured, the occupants of the graveyard take him into their care. One such occupant, the mysterious Silas, distracts the boy’s would-be murder who leaves, confused about why he was there in the first place. Thus starts the boy’s new life in his skewed new world.
And what happens over the course of the book is a series of fantastic vignettes that introduce you to characters as Bod—short for Nobody—grows up and meets new people. From the real-life Scarlett, who stops by to play in the park and becomes Bod’s first real-life pal; to the so-called witch Liza Hempstock, tucked away in the unhallowed ground at the end of the graveyard, who is mostly ignored by the other ghosts. Bod goes through all the shenanigans you’d expect of a child, travelling through ghoul gates and avoiding someone intent on murdering him. I remember when I had to deal with the same ballyhoo during my own childhood, and it’s wearing
Bod stays good-natured throughout, and is an appealing character. During his brief stay at school, he can’t help his goodness coming through, despite it bringing about more problems for him. When Silas, his guardian and teacher, leaves him in the care of another woman who, in a terrifying turn of events, feeds him beets—BEETS, seriously, this is the stuff of nightmares—he starts off an arrogant child who you would advocate the return of corporal punishment for and then, after a rollicking and unnerving adventure, sees the error of his ways. He’s a good kid, in all, and you don’t want him to die in a horrible stabby way like his poor family did.
The ending is a little sad, but mostly hopeful; everything is neatly tied up and my opinion of Neil Gaiman raised. Perhaps I will try to finally read all the books I have of his dotted around my home: the graphic novel Marvel 1602, and American Gods. Why do I have these around? Dude, I can’t remember how I accumulated all this stuff either. I can only assume, now, that it’s ghosts.
(I would also be interested to hear if anyone else was confused about what the cover shows apart from a beat-up gravestone. It took me two weeks of it lying about the couch area before tonight, when I yelled unexpectedly, “Oh, it’s his face in profile!” This is why I am not a designer.)