Friday, October 5, 2012
From the Archive: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
(This post was first published in October 2010. The Graveyard Book is classified as YA, but as so many YA books are, it is just as entertaining for adults as for kids. There are plenty of references that will sail right over YA's heads that add to the depth of the reading experience for adults.)
After he won The 2008 John Newberry Award for The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman told theNew York Times how he felt about the book once he had finished writing it:
You always have this Platonic beautiful idea of a book in your head, and then you write something which isn't as good as that.... The Graveyard Book is the first time I've had a Platonic ideal of a book and written the thing and looked at the book and said, "You know, I think you're better than the thing I set out to write."
This fits my reaction to The Graveyard Book. I had just read Coraline, which I very much enjoyed, so I assumed I'd have fun reading this one, too. I wasn't prepared, though, for how much I loved this novel. From the moment I opened and read the first page until the last sentence, I was enthralled, intrigued, and entertained by adventures of a boy who has grown up in a graveyard. I truly didn't want it to end. It was much better than my own Platonic ideal of it had been, based as it was on Coraline.
The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody Owens, nicknamed Bod, who is raised from toddlerhood by ghosts and a mysterious guardian who can cross the border between the land of the living and that of the dead. Bod, himself, is a member of the living, but has been taken in by the dead to protect him from the man who has murdered his family. Bod is granted Freedom of the Graveyard, which offers him special powers with which he can protect himself while he is within the confines of the cemetary. However, these powers stop at the gates, so Bod has no protection once he ventures into the dangerous land of the living.
And spending time with the living is very tempting for Bod. He loves the denizens of the graveyard, who are a colorful and humorous group, but he craves closeness to living people, too. In fact, as Bod grows older, his conflict about where he truly belongs grows. It is clear that he can't live his whole life in a graveyard, with only the spirits of the dead as company, but how will he learn enough to blend in with the living? And what about the murderer who is still hunting him?
Bod gets himself into all kinds of scrapes, both within the graveyard and outside of it, and meets all kinds of wonderful and terrifying beings: living, dead, and undead. But rather than being merely a chilling tale of those things we fear most (death, murder, superstition), The Graveyard Book is also a story of family, friendship, and longing. Gaiman makes the cemetary and its inhabitants homey and loveable for us, just as they are for Bod, but he also maintains a discomfort and creepiness just under the surface, so the story remains a delightfully suspenseful adventure.
When I reluctantly finished The Graveyard Book, I was thankful to Gaiman for offering closure for Bod, so the story could end there, and end well. But I also noticed, with a hopeful eye, that Gaiman had also created the potential for Bod's story to continue. I'm torn about this. On the one hand, I really want to read more about Bod and his adventures. But on the other hand, I think (maybe) that a Platonic idea, once realized, should be left alone.
Posted by Mary-Colleen at 7:49 AM