Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

GENRE: fantasy/young adult


Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Apart from the fact that he lives in a graveyard and is being raised and educated by ghosts, and his guardian belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of ghouls; friendship with a witch; and so much more. But it is in the land of the living that the real dangers lurk, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.

Neil Gaiman is a genius – once again, he captivated me with one of his novels and The Graveyard Book was a truly delightful and gripping novel, and also a quite scary, suspenseful and gothic read.

The story begins when the mysterious man Jack kills a family: the father, the mother and the daughter. But the little boy, still a toddler, gets away by pure chance and finds his shelter in an abandoned graveyard that became a natural reserve and where no one new has been buried for more than fifty years. A ghost couple from the 1700s adopts the little boy, naming him Nobody Owens, and a dark, elusive man called Silas becomes his guardian. Bod was given the Freedom of the Graveyard by the ghosts, which means that he can see the ghosts, as well as do some things that only ghosts can do: over the years, and with the help of some magic from a ghost witch, Bod can Fade, Dreamwalk and Haunt, just like any ghost – only that he is a living and breathing human boy.

I truly loved all the characters in the novel. Bod is an almost normal boy who is raised in a graveyard by ghosts and a man who is neither alive nor dead (SPOILER: Silas is a vampire, which becomes very obvious soon in the novel. END OF SPOILER.) He is very curious, smart, brave, knows how to speak the languages of different time periods and must never leave the graveyard because the man Jack is still after him, bent on finding him, so that he can kill Bod. However, over the years, Bod becomes restless and although he loves the graveyard and all the ghosts, he also wants to be with humans. His encounter with the living world is exciting, but it also means that Bod becomes visible and so trouble begins. Bod also shows a darker side, but that darker side is a natural consequence of being surrounded by ghosts, some other creatures and death on a daily basis. He sees some things as normal, which other mortals would see as very strange or even downright scary.

His parents are two very indulging ghosts, Mr and Mrs Owen. Eliza Hempstock, a witch ghost, is a good friend of Bod and puts him under a spell, so that Bod can do some of the things that ghosts can do, to keep him safe – or at least safer – in the world of the living. Silas is a dark, mysterious man, so dark that he is almost one with the shadows. He is not a man of many words, but every time he speaks he says something meaningful and important. He is very knowledgeable and is Bod’s best friend, I believe, also acting as his father sometimes, although “officially” Bod’s father is Mr Owens.

Eventually, the man Jack, the strange killer, finds Bod’s trail and things become really scary and suspenseful at this point in the novel, although the atmosphere is relatively chilling and mysterious throughout the story. Gloomy is the word, but gloomy is Bod’s kind of sunshine because the world of the graveyard is his world and although he is a human boy, he is a lot like the ghosts, too.

The ending is very exciting and very suspenseful. I was pretty much biting my nails, an ugly habit that I sometimes resort to when a book is delightfully scary.

I do have two complaints, but they do not mar the greatness of this novel. It is explained why the man Jack killed Bod’s family and why he had to finish Bod as well. But it is never explained what exactly it is that the man Jack’s organization, the Jack-of-all-Trades, does. I mean, the name implies that they do just about anything there is to do, but anything is a vague word and I would have wanted to know more about this peculiar organization of killers. And the other thing – the Sleer. The Sleer are wispy, scary creatures that protect the so-called Master’s treasure in the oldest grave in the graveyard. It is a tomb beneath a mausoleum all the way from the pre-Celtic times. I really loved the presentation of the Sleer, but I would have liked to know what it meant to be their Master because according to the Sleer’s actions, the Master was more a slave than a master.

Apart from that, the novel is a true gem, a wonderfully scary ghost story, with suspense, mysteries and drama. It is a perfect read for autumn and I recommend it to fans of Gaiman, the supernatural, fantasy and to all of you who like things to get a bit scary sometimes.

I would also like to point out that the story was illustrated by Dave McKean. The illustrations are really nice and compliment the story well.

I read this novel for the R.I.P. V Challenge.

/ (4.5 stars)


Jan von Harz said...

I have not read this book, but this is one of the best reviews of it I have read. Looks like I need to get this and read it soon. I will definitely start recommending it to my students who love scary.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

That's a great review summing up most of the things I remember liking in the novel (although it's been a while so I can't remember everything). Perfect for October!

Shelley said...

I loved this book and now my daughters and I are listening the audio version that has been raved about. Gaiman is a great storyteller.

Blodeuedd said...

Gaiman is truly such a great storyteller, he really knows how to write them :)

Julie P said...

I haven't read Gaiman before, but I have seen such positive reviews about his books. I really should pick one up. Great review!

Kailana said...

I am glad to see this book is still getting lots of love this year!

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I read that one last year and I loved it. I think I liked it better than Coraline and Coraline is one of my all time favorite books

Midnyte Reader said...

I picked this up at the library but had to return it before I got a chance to read it. I have to get it again!

Dot said...

I really enjoyed this one, he is a genius isn't he!