Review: “The Graveyard Book”

As you can see by my sidebar, Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors; I’ve loved all of his books except one — his children’s book, Coraline, pretty much left me cold.  I can’t really explain what I didn’t like about Coraline; it just didn’t grab me the way Gaiman’s books usually do.  I was interested to see if The Graveyard Book would be different, and it sure was.

The Graveyard Book is not so much a novel as it is a collection of related short stories featuring Nobody Owens, a toddler who escapes the murder of his family by wandering into a nearby cemetery, where he is rescued and raised by a group of ghosts.  It’s written with Gaiman’s usual flair, mixing humor and pathos and horror in the Gaiman fashion that always makes me feel like a hack.  (Thanks, Mr. Gaiman.)  In keeping with the book’s YA target demographic, the horror is somewhat muted, but it’s still present and intense enough that my wife wouldn’t feel comfortable using the book in her 4th and 5th grade class.  (She sometimes gives “special” books like The Thief of Always to kids who would appreciate it [and whose parents don’t object to the dark subject matter], but has said she won’t do the same with this one.)

Standout chapters in The Graveyard Book are  “The Hounds of God”, in which Nobody encounters a group of amusingly-named ghouls; “The Witch’s Headstone”, in which Nobody makes the acquaintance of my favorite character in the book, Liza Hempstock, a ghost who proves to be a valuable friend, and a dangerous enemy; and “Danse Macabre”, which, for reasons that will become obvious to the reader who is also familiar with one of my favorite pastimes, I enjoyed immensely.

In addition to the aforementioned Nobody Owens and Liza Hempstock, the graveyard is populated by a number of colorful characters (dead and otherwise), including Nobody’s mysterious guardian Silas, his stern teacher Miss Lupescu, his ghostly foster parents Mr. and Mrs. Owens, and some creepy disembodied voices that call themselves the Sleer.  Outside the graveyard, Nobody has a memorable clash with a pair of bullies at the local school, in a chapter that could perhaps be taken as a satire on the tendency of children to slip through the cracks of the educational system.  None of the chapters is particularly weak, even ones that are relatively expository, such as an oddly banal convention of oddly menacing men.  The one thing I could quibble with is with Silas and Miss Lupescu’s extra-curricular activities toward the end of the book, in which they team up with a rather throwaway pig-carrying mummy character and an off-screen ifrit in a skunkworks group conducting an operation on Nobody’s behalf.  I would’ve liked to see this part expanded or cut; because I rather liked that throwaway pig-carrying mummy, I’m going to go with “expanded it please, Mr. Gaiman”.

They haven’t filmed this book yet, but I think that once they do, it would probably put my wife to sleep in about an hour (unless the “Danse Macabre” chapter happened to hit at the one-hour mark, because I know she would stay awake for that).

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5 Comments

  1. Of the few Neil Gaiman books I have read, I have enjoyed them all. I saw this one the other day and thought about purchasing it, now I wish I would have. I also need to read “Coraline”. I know that we have already discussed “Coraline” (and how much I loved the film) on my blog, but in my ongoing effort to convince you to see “Coraline”, I thought you should know that there is a character added in the film that befriends “Coraline”. Gaiman said this was done so that “Coraline would not have to narrate or talk to herself throughout the film. Anyway, my point is that I think you would enjoy this added character. Okay, I’m done going on about “Coraline”. So yeah, “The Graveyard Book” sounds awesome, I will add it to my ever growing wish list.

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  2. I just noticed that Amazon has a little sidebar that says this book is #1 on the NYT Children’s Chapter Books list. My library’s copies are all checked out. So much for getting my impatient little hands on this book right away. 😛

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  3. I was reading the Wikipedia entry for “Watchmen” (refreshing my memory before going to see the movie; it’s been a while since I read the graphic novel) when I came across this and thought of you:

    “[Alan] Moore occasionally contacted fellow comics writer Neil Gaiman for answers to research questions and for quotes to include in issues.”

    I had no idea Gaiman influenced “Watchmen” but it rather makes sense if I think about it… Anyway, thanks for giving me a little shove in his direction; I’m going to check out more of his work!

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