Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

“It takes a graveyard to raise a child,” or so the old saying goes.
In Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a young boy travels from a murder scene to a tomb without dying in between. Adopted by ghosts and a “solitary type” who is neither dead nor alive, Nobody Owens must learn the customs and rules of the dead – the difference between Fading and Dreamwalking, ghoul-gates and unconsecrated ground – while preparing for a future when he will have to confront his family’s killer among the living. When the secret society of “men called Jack” return to finish him off, Bod must call on all his cunning, a little bit of magic, and friends from both the graveyard and the human city to protect himself and his home.
After a somewhat slow start, The Graveyard Book immerses readers in a world so well developed and easy to visualize that it is hard to believe it isn’t real. Everything from the types of creatures that inhabit the graveyard to Bod’s guardians’ personal histories is imaginative and multi-layered, yet the plot is never bogged down by excess information. Each chapter is both a self contained adventure and a piece of the larger narrative, and because two years pass from one to the next, we get to see Bod grow and develop as his story becomes more complex. Individual characters – especially Silas, who could pass for a vampire in another book, and Miss Lupescu, who might be called a werewolf – rise above their species’ stereotypes to become, more than anything else, human.
If the book has one weakness, it is the lack of similar complexity in its villains, the men called Jack. The men Jack seem to be killers without remorse or a reason for acting the way they do. Although we learn that they belong to a secret society that is trying to kill Bod because of a prophecy, the exact nature of this society and Bod’s threat to it are never fully explained. But since The Graveyard Book is really more about Bod’s personal development than the forces that sent him to the graveyard in the first place, this lack of depth is more of a minor disappointment than a major annoyance.
All in all, The Graveyard Book is one of the most creative, well written, and emotionally sincere novels I have read this year.
5/5 stars


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