“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

I know, I know! I promised to review “Goliath” by Scott Westerfeld today. Sadly, it is late arriving in stores so I haven’t been able to get my pre-ordered copy yet. Fingers crossed for next week.

In the meantime: a treat.

Neil Gaiman (who, incidentally, is married to Amanda Palmer of “The Dresden Dolls” – they’re even touring together) is a brilliant writer – one of the world’s best. Sometimes he needs an edit, and sometimes he’s too dark for my taste. This is not one of those times.

THIS book (as you may have guessed from the title) has a wonderful macabre quality, but is nonetheless a great book for children. It never stops being fantastical (most of the characters are dead, for example) but it FEELS as down-to-earth as common sense. The main character is Bod, who we follow from the age of 18 months to adolescence (only Neil Gaiman could break the “keep your main character a similar age to the audience” and “use a short time span” rules so brilliantly; don’t try that at home). He is observant, intelligent, and good. I’d love to meet him.

There are other characters, too, who are instantly recognisable as the kind of people (not that that’s the right word for what they are) that will be remembered forever – Silas, Miss Lupescu, and the witch.

The story has a deceptively rambling quality, but the menace to Bod is clear from the first scene, and it never lets up. The climax shows that not a single scene was wasted. The theme is growing up – being alive – and it is perfectly developed.

Gaiman’s writing is exquisite. I hesitate to call it “literary” because that’s a by-word for “boring” to so many readers (including me) but when someone writes like Gaiman, you fall in love with the language without ever losing sight of the story. (Ursula leGuin and Sandy Fussell can pull it off, and very few others.)

It’s also beautifully (and eerily) illustrated.

Free sample (the beginning):

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.

The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of night-time mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.

The man Jack paused on the landing. With his left hand he pulled a large white handkerchief from the pocket of his black coat, and with it he wiped off the knife and his gloved right hand which had been holding it; then he put the handkerchief away. The hunt was almost over. He had left the woman in her bed, the man on the bedroom floor, the older child in her brightly coloured bedroom, surrounded by toys and half-finished models. That only left the little one, a baby barely a toddler, to take care of.

Rating: PG, since it may scare some under-12 children.

Published by Felicity Banks Books

I write books (mainly adventure fantasy for kids and young adults), real-time twittertales, and a blog of Daily Awesomeness. @Louise_Curtis_ and http://twittertales.wordpress.com. My fantasy ebook is on sale at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/278981.

6 thoughts on ““The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

  1. I love the way that the knife is a character, and the man Jack is secondary. It really makes the setting.

    I really enjoyed reading it. I may just go and read it again.

    1. W: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but of course you’re right. All I knew was that it was brilliant.

    1. Joe: No I hadn’t seen that. “The Graveyard Book” would be perfect for almost any child.

  2. And evidence of our clearly different taste in literature is that I actually don’t find that captivating…….. The line about wiping the hand literally made me wince. I’m not sure why it is, but the staccato rhythm, with all the comma’s and fullstops actually breaks the tension for me.

    Hmmmmm….. I was tempted by your description, but if I picked it up and read tat first page, it would go straight back on the shelf.

    1. Ann: A lot of books sound really odd when you only read a section. On the other hand, your taste is very heavily weighted towards the style of several decades ago, so I’m not surprised you don’t like it.

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