Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

As the now well-travelled story goes, Gaiman conceived of this novel many years ago, watching his young son ride his tricycle around a graveyard opposite their house. Gaiman was reminded of Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and mused on the possibility of, on that premise, a child being brought up in a graveyard and learning all the things the dead people know. Thus, the idea for The Graveyard Book was born, but it wasn't until 20 years or so later that Gaiman finally decided he was "as good as he was ever going to get" at writing, and put pen to paper to complete it.

I for one am glad he waited, because if, as he claims, he couldn't have written it this way all those years ago, it's readers would have lost out. There is a part of me that shares Garth Nix's sentiments, when he says "I wish my younger self could have had the opportunity to read and reread this wonderful book", but getting the chance to read it as an adult also has its advantages.

Bod (short for Nobody) Owens crawls through the graveyard gates as a tiny child, having luckily escaped the man Jack, who has murdered the rest of his family. The residents of the graveyard take him in and bring him up their way, giving him the 'freedom of the graveyard' and teaching him how to slip and fade from human view, and other important lessons. His adoptive parents, the Owenses, were childless in life and love Bod as their own, and his guardian Sylas, who only comes out and night and sleeps in a crypt, is reserved but caring. But as Bod gets older he starts to feel his difference to the characters of his world, and begins to be uneasy because of it. He is neither here nor there – not living a human life, but not dead. Along the journey of his self-exploration, Bod encounters ghoul gates, werewolves, ancient Sleer, witches and human girls (not to mention a plethora of hilarious ghost characters) as he tries to discover his place amongst it all - and as is to be expected, Gaiman's writing is a pure delight. It sings off the page. I had the pleasure of hearing him read a chapter from The Graveyard Book in London on his recent tour, so perhaps that helped. When reading it I could definitely hear Gaiman’s voice resonating and infusing each word with his intended lilt. You can watch and hear him here, on his video tour.

Gaiman’s prose is perfectly concocted and strung together most magically. I had so much fun and my imagination floated away so powerfully when reading this that I actually cannot wait to read it to my future children! That has to say something, surely?

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