The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book

AuthorNeil Gaiman

Pages: 304 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; Children’s ed edition
Release Date: October 20, 2008
ISBN-10: 0747569010
ISBN-13: 978-0747569015

Over the holiday season I picked up, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, a novel that I had been saving for years. Gaiman is a special case for me, I don’t read his novels lightly, instead saving them for special occasions when I need a reminder why I first fell so in love with reading. Stardust was a mesmerizing read – full of dashing heroes, dastardly villains and a living, breathing Fey world – and perhaps is my favourite novel by my favourite author.

Despite all of this I never wrote a review of Stardust. Why? It’s hard to say. It feels a little above me, to write a casual review of a novel that affected me so much, written by an author who seems nigh untouchable. I’d only be adding to the avalanche of praise already heaped upon the classic novel. In many ways that adoration (and, by extension, all the good things said in the following review) spilled over into my experience with Gaiman’s latest novel, The Graveyard Book, another wonderful sign pointing to Gaiman’s status as a living legend of fairytale literature and Speculative Fiction.

Gaiman does not hide the fact that much of the inspiration for The Graveyard Book comes from Rudyard Kipling’s similarly named The Jungle Book and has been a novel over twenty years in the writing. Looking at the comparison, it’s hard to consider The Graveyard Book (or most of Gaiman’s YA novels, for that matter) as anything other than a modern day fairytale – ripe with everything that makes The Princess Bride, Robinson Crusoe and The Jungle Book such compelling reads even now, when those stories have been told and re-told so many times since.

Risking the use of a tired, old cliché, it’s not so much the story that Gaiman’s telling, but rather the creativity, wonder and love that he pours into the telling that separates The Graveyard Book from so many of its peers. Gaiman must pay close attention to his children, for Nobody ‘Bod’ Owens, raised by the denizens of a haunted graveyard, faces the sort of adventure that only a child’s imagination allows to manifest in the deep, dark realm of their backyard. The Graveyard Book is, simply, the retelling of every person’s childhood.

Told through a series of short stories featuring Bod’s misadventures, each chapter of The Graveyard Book carefully sets the stage for the tumultuous finale, introducing a myriad of creatures, characters and environments that eventually aid Bod in discovering his true name and taking hold of his destiny. This episodic style of telling makes The Graveyard Book the perfect novel to milk over the course of several nights – a chapter a night, curled up warm by a crackling fire.

Gaiman’s prose, like always, slips by unnoticed, beautifully entangling the reader as the story tumbles from the pages and bringing the graveyard and its inhabitants to life. Equal parts dark and humourous, touching and unsettling, simple and provoking, Gaiman weaves a tale that, once it gets its hooks in, won’t leave the reader until long after that final page is turned. Novels like this make me wish that Gaiman would more often revisit his old tales, revealing more of the characters I grew so attached to; but then I remember all the worlds he’s discovered – the London underground in Neverwhere and the village of Wall in Stardust and the mysterious house in Coraline – and I know how regretful I would feel if he didn’t keep pushing the boundaries of our world, discovering those little, magic filled places the rest of us are just too blind to see.

The Graveyard Book, like every Neil Gaiman novel I’ve read, crackled with promise as I turned that first page, and yet despite all my high hopes and heightened expectations, Gaiman once again managed to leave me haunted and impressed (and a little cowed, as a writer myself). Having finished the novel only this morning, I am already left yearning for whatever Gaiman writes next. Whether they are a young child, first learning to read, or just young at heart, The Graveyard Book is sure to hold something for any reader who gives it a chance.

  • Ana January 15, 2009 at 5:03 am

    Yep, what you said.

  • edifanob January 15, 2009 at 5:09 am

    I read Neverwhere and watched Stardust in cinema.
    I liked both stories. I got recommendations for </bThe Graveyard Book</b< and finally I read your review. So NO WAY OUT !! I have to add it to my list!

  • aidan January 15, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Ana – You give me too much credit!

    edifanob – If you liked Stardust in the theatre, you’re sure to love the novel. Frankly Neverwhere is easily Gaiman’s weakest novel and he grows by leaps and bounds with each release. Definitely add him high on your ‘To-read’ list.

  • Thea January 15, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I concur with Ana–what you said :) I loved [i]The Graveyard Book[/i]. Heck, I think I’ve loved everything Gaiman has written (well, of what works of his I have read). I’m excited for the film adaptation of [i]Coraline[/i]! I wonder if Hollywood will go down that route with [i]The Graveyard Book[/i]…

  • Francisco Norega January 16, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Hello! I discovered your blog a few days ago and I’ve already added it to my favourites!

    As a fan of Gaiman’s books (he’s my favourite writer!), I’m very sad with teh Portuguese publisher of Gaiman =( We only have the portuguese translation of Neverwhere (one of my favourites books ever), Anansi Boys, Stardust, Coraline and Good Omens (with Pratchett), and I REALLY want to read American Gods *.*

    I’ll keep reading ;)

  • hagelrat January 18, 2009 at 3:10 am

    yup, i’ll second that. I loved this book and bought a second copy for some friends at Christmas. I can’t wait to see Coraline, the book creeped me out totally.

  • Carl Vincent January 19, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Glad you enjoyed Graveyard Book so much. It was a wonderful read and, like all Gaiman’s books, it leaves you wishing he was a faster writer!!! ;) If you like audio books at all I certainly recommend picking this up on audio. I read it first and then listened to it a month later and it is divine listening to Neil read it.

    Stardust, for lack of a better word, is magical. It is one that I can reread over and over again. For me though, Neverwhere will always be my favorite of Gaiman’s works, probably in large part because it was the first of his novels that I read. I love the characters and the merging of the real world with the invisible one. Very creative. He is a master, no doubt about it.

  • aidan January 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I’ve always respected the fact that Gaiman does the voice over for his own audio novels. Based on all the experiences I’ve had with him, I can’t imagine he’d be anything other than terrific at that medium of storytelling as well. The only thing stopping me from checking them out is the high cost of audio books.

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  • David Stewart April 5, 2010 at 7:58 am

    The Jungle Book, it is not. I usually like books that get such good reviews, but now regret having spent the money for the hardcover. I am sure young adults will love it. Just not this adult. It is well written and the characters vividly drawn but the story itself has been done better and so often that I did not care.