Saturday, August 27, 2011

Leroy Douresseaux on THE GRAVEYARD BOOK


AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
ISBN: 978-0-06-053092-1; hardcover
312pp, B&W, $17.99 U.S., $19.50 CAN

The Graveyard Book is a 2008 children’s fantasy novel from author Neil Gaiman. It won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Novel and the 2009 Newberry Medal.

The Graveyard Book chronicles the adventures of a boy, Nobody Owens (“Bod” for short) who would be completely normal, except for the fact that he lives in an old cemetery and is being reared by the ghosts of a couple that died centuries ago. There are dangers and adventures aplenty. The Indigo Man and the Sleer stir deep beneath a hill in the cemetery, and one grave is a gateway to a world of hungry ghouls. There are things for Bod to learn – how to fade and be invisible to humans. But if Bod leaves the safety of the graveyard, Jack, who brutally murdered Bod’s family when the boy was a toddler, will kill him, too.

Chronicling Nobody Owens’ youth, from the time he was a toddler to his 15th birthday, The Graveyard Book is a riff on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, but here a boy is raised by ghosts, instead of by animals as in Kipling’s classic. Gaiman tells Nobody Owens’ story through eight short stories that act as chapters; a few years of Bod’s life elapse between stories.

As with all of his work, Gaiman displays much imagination in his storytelling, and he’s always an engaging storyteller, although here, he seems a bit stiff at times. The Graveyard Book is a fun read, and the last two chapters skirt the razor’s edge of suspense and supernatural thrills. Early sections of The Graveyard Book, however, are a bit limp. The book’s opening comes across as pretentious, elegant writing, and the early chapters sometimes seem too mannered, with Gaiman writing as if he were an athlete “playing tight” in big game.

It’s the other half of the stories that are riveting, fun, and exhibit Gaiman’s gift for taking his readers’ imaginations on flights of fancy, deep into the macabre. When he crashes the real world of his characters into those dark, magical places that seem to hang on the edges of reality, (such as the chapter “Nobody Owens’ School Days”) The Graveyard Book hits its stride, and Gaiman seems closer to famed horror writer Clive Barker than he is to some generic writer of drippy, faux-Victorian fairy tales.


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