Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Review: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

First of all, Neil Gaiman is a wonderful author. He was one who I bought everything he put out (which is quite a lot) up until about The Wolves in the Walls. I didn't stop out of disappointment with the quality of the work, but out of my life kicking in to the point where lack of time and money prohibit obsessive fan-hood. He has a wealth of great work out there for anyone who hasn't read him. He puts me in mind of Ray Bradbury a bit, but kind of more sleek and hip, more on the dark magical fantastical side.

So, I went to buy The Graveyard Book this last week, (Don't we have to tell on our blogs if we bought something or not now?) because it had been on the New York Times Bestseller Top Ten for a year, for 52 weeks exactly. Also last week saw the publication of the Sarah Palin flummery which rocketed to the top of the bestseller list for reasons I cannot even begin to grasp. Having intended to read Gaiman's latest for some time I decided it was time to take action and have the double benefit of casting my small economic vote for him, and against her book. Having limited knowledge of the material, I wasn't expecting to find it in the Children's books section. Now having finished it, I would say that it's probably perfect for a junior high aged child.

The book revolves around Nobody Owens, an orphan of a murdered family, who is reared by the deceased in a historic graveyard in England. The deceased are spirits or ghosts or something like that. He's not being brought up by corpses. I don't think that would go very well.
All of which sounds really grim, but it's not at all. In fact, it is a very lively and, I would say, life affirming book. I would give this book to my hypothetical junior high aged child without hesitation and with all speed. I'm fairly certain I can endorse everything said and every lesson implied in the book. Plus, without being overbearing, the book will probably send the child to the dictionary to find the meaning of words like "offal." What better gift can you give a junior higher? And it would do my heart a lot of good seeing a young person excited to find out more about Clytemnestra.

The book starts out a little on the episodic side and I kind of thought that it might just go on in that direction. I began expecting that the book might be a series of stories strung together by common characters, but it shifts about halfway and it turns out it was all building to something. Also on the subject of form, I thought that it was a little more cinematic at parts than I would have liked, you know, almost as if in preparation for a film adaptation (which I think is a terrible idea.) But I'm self-aware enough to know that that is probably me as a stuffy, snobby 32 year old classicist talking, and that a writer of fiction for the early teens in this particular period of history must needs have action sequences. Having said that, let me backpedal a bit and say that the ghoul section of the first half of the book was one of my favorite parts.

Also I wonder if there's a sequel in mind. I left the book with questions, not the kind that come from sloppy writing, but rather the kind that come from one's imagination being sparked. "Where did Silas go when he left? What exactly was Silas? What happened to all of the children mentioned in the book when they grew up having had the experiences that they had (especially the bullies)?" And so on. Most of them revolved around Silas. What a fascinating character!
All of the very small critiques I have, and they are very few, make me achingly aware of my own age. Much like the critiques I might have after observing a rave or a punk concert. This isn't Thomas Hardy or Marcel Proust. It did win the Newberry and it may very well be read 500 years from now.

Although this leads me to a whole other can of worms, which is the trend of adults reading children's fiction. I think we can all read and, in fact, benefit from great children's literature. Having said that, I'm a little unnerved when I meet someone my own age who exclusively reads children's literature. Or, perhaps to be more specific, I've put it like this before "There are two kinds of Harry Potter fans. Those who love Harry Potter books and those who love Harry Potter books as well as many other things in life."

In conclusion, I did enjoy the book tremendously. I would give it as a gift, and if I live a long life I am sure I will read it again someday. Having said that, to my fellow adults, I would recommend it, but I would recommend Neverwhere, American Gods (which I think might have been my favorite), Stardust and the Sandman series by Gaiman before this book. He is a deservedly treasured living writer and if you've never read him, indulge yourself. I hereby give you permission.

1 comment:

  1. I loved The Graveyard Book. I probably enjoyed American Gods more. I haven't read Neverwhere, yet. I loved Stardust, too. I guess the thing is, I put TGB in line with Coraline (which was good, but not exactly great), as primarily a young person's book. I love "juveniles" and some of my favorite, and most re-read books are such. Haroun and the Sea of Stories is another great one, btw. But I guess I do regard them separately from adult fiction.

    Eh, whatever, not sure what my point was. Oh, speaking of Wolves in the Walls. I started reading that to my kids when they were very young. I love the McKean illustrations, and particularly the page where the wolves had gotten into the jam. Then again, I'm a sicko.