"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Gaiman’s macabre tale about a boy who lives in a graveyard offers a dark twist on a classic children’s story. Despite being aimed at a young audience, The Graveyard Book opens with a shocking triple homicide by the villain of this whimsical tale called ‘the man Jack’. With his parents and older sister freshly murdered, an adventurous and curious toddler slips out of the house and stumbles upon an old graveyard close by, where he is adopted by a kindly ghost couple and christened Nobody, or Bod for short. For now Bod is safe in the confines of the spooky graveyard, but the man Jack is still out there, and he intends to finish what he started...

I love the setting of The Graveyard Book: a scary old English graveyard, surrounded by ghosts from all time periods and backgrounds - including the ghost of a witch and the spectre of Caius Pompeius, as well as vicious ghouls. In real life, graveyards are normally avoided and people don’t like being there, so I thought Gaiman’s idea of having a young boy live in one was very intelligent as well as interesting and original. Furthermore this macabre setting allows for a juxtaposing of the living and the dead, offering some wonderful tidbits of wisdom shared from the ghosts to the young boy:

“You're alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you're dead, it's gone. Over. You've made what you've made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.”

The novel itself reads, at least for the first half, very much like a collection of short stories. They focus on the many mischievous adventures Bod gets up to in his unusual home, and don’t advance the plot a great deal. It is not until towards the end of the novel when the man Jack makes his reappearance and the story progresses.

Despite the high acclaim of this book, I dislike the writing style and this major issue made The Graveyard Book a bit of a boring read for me. It was not very engaging, and the dialogue fell a bit flat; I found this was the case with Stardust too - the only other Gaiman I have read. This is a huge shame because the premise is brilliantly imaginative and, as I have already said, the creepy setting really appealed to me; this book certainly had the potential to wow me, but unfortunately it failed to do so.

Ostensibly The Graveyard Book is a children’s story, but it is incredibly dark - the murder of Bod’s family in the opening chapter is not graphic, but nonetheless it is disturbing and sinister in context, and I would not recommend it for young children or for sensitive older kids as it may scare them and give them nightmares.

In conclusion, my second outing with Gaiman was a bit of a letdown, and despite the high acclaim of The Graveyard Book I didn’t enjoy reading it too much due to the dull writing style. However the concept behind this is truly brilliant and it boasts an array of charming and interesting characters; had this been written in a way I can get on with, I’m sure this would have been one of my favourites. I remain underwhelmed by Gaiman’s work but I am determined to find one that I love!

Rating: 6/10

My other Neil Gaiman reviews:
How to Talk to Girls at Parties

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