The Graveyard Book
289 pages • Bloomsbury • September 30th, 2008
The world of Neil Gaiman, whether he is writing books for adults or children, is full of wonder and possibility. From the parallel London of Neverwhere through to the magical world on the other side of the wall in Stardust, Gaiman is a writer who explores how the realm of the imagination can enrich our everyday reality. Like Philip Pullman and Diana Wynne Jones, he crosses the boundary between books written for children and those written for adults. The Graveyard Book is vintage Gaiman in that, although it is written for a younger audience, it is about the process of becoming, and its resulting appeal is unrestricted.
The book opens with the murder of a family, and the escape of the two-year old son who has wandered off into the nearby graveyard. He is rescued from the murderer, “the man Jack”, by the guardian of the graveyard, Silas, and adopted by the ghosts Mr and Mrs Owens following an appeal from the child’s dead mother. He is named Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, and is given the freedom of the graveyard.
The Graveyard Book is a modern Jungle Book, and it tells the story of how Bod grows up amongst the ghosts. The graveyard itself has long been closed and its inhabitants date from the early Roman settlements through to the Victorian era. The tales told throughout are short stories about this parallel world and what the dead can teach the living. From the man under the first gravestone, Caius Pompeius, through to the witch Liza Hempstock, Bod learns all that he needs to navigate the world of the living.
Yet the times Bod enters the world of the living the threat of Jack’s unfinished business arises. It is what he learns in the graveyard that saves him when Jack eventually tracks him down, and Bod finds out just why Jack had tried to kill him when he was a child.
The audio CD is read by Gaiman himself. He proves an accomplished reader who pulls the listener into the world of the book and maintains its magic. His performance of the characters is as vivid as they are. “He do the Police in different voices.”
The Graveyard Book is a coming of age story in which the parallel world of the imagination is as distinct as it is inseparable from everyday reality. It is about the importance of risk and of danger, and how, without them, we would not be alert to possibility, to what it is that creates a responsible adult from an innocent child. With this book Gaiman once again proves what a great writer he is and just how important the imagination is in creating a diverse tolerant world.
“It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls
to raise this child. It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard.”