Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman

Read: December 2009

The Graveyard Book in one tweet sized chunk:
The Graveyard Book is one of those terrifyingly creepy and yet thoroughly normal books which charm adults and children alike. It is a classic in the making.

“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.”

The Graveyard Book warrants each and every one of the many awards it has received. A clever retelling of The Jungle Book, it follows Nobody Owens, or Bod to his friends, a young boy who was orphaned by the brutal and targeted murder of the rest of his family when he was just a toddler. Given sanctuary by powerful forces in an ancient local graveyard, Bod grows up among the ghosts of those long dead and for years does not even venture into the scary world outside the graveyard. Why should he when he has all the companionship he could need right there. There are his adoptive parents, Mr. And Mrs. Owens, married more than 250 years ago, the graveyard's mysterious caretaker Silas, an ostracised witch, a strange old teacher who cannot cook and host of other long dead companions.

But a mysterious man named Jack has not forgotten about him, and is merely biding his time until he can complete the job he started the night Bod got away...

Neil Gaiman's career seems to be going from strength to strength at the moment. It wouldn't surprise me if this book goes on to become a classic of children's literature. It is one of those terrifyingly creepy and yet thoroughly normal books which charm adults and children alike. By setting it in a graveyard Gaiman cleverly questions our received wisdom of the seemingly safe, sane, adult world and our often irrational fear of the great unknown. As he points out, it is not always the ghosts, vampires, werewolves or witches you should be running from. After all, the dead already know they're dead. Don't they?

With fantastic illustrations by Dave McKean (don't buy the Children's edition, it is illustrated by Chris Riddell and just doesn't look quite right) this is about as good as children's literature gets. Each chapter takes the form of a short story, sometimes with years in between then, so that over the course of the book Bod grows from a baby into a teenager who believes he is able to look after himself. But with Jack outside the gates and a mythical battle brewing it is only a matter of time before Bod is drawn once again into an ancient and dangerous struggle from which he will be lucky to escape with his life...

8 out of 10

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