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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
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Book Name: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher(s): HarperCollins (US) Bloomsbury (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Children's Fantasy / Horror
Release Date: September 30 2008

Sometimes trips to the local charity shop can be a bust. There are however rare occasions where you’ll find a gem. For me, that gem was Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Confession time: the only other works by Gaiman that I’ve read are The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stardust, Hansel & Gretel and The Sleeper and the Spindle. I knew that I was missing out on a lot and picking up The Graveyard Book was a no brainer. I’ve got American Gods sitting on my shelf that I’ll get around to at some point.

Gaiman admitted that the book draws on inspiration from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; both see an orphaned child raised in completely unconventional situations by non-human beings that would not normally rear children. Although both easily fall into the ‘children’s book’ category, there’s still much to draw on regardless of your age.

The narrative that Gaiman takes on is like you’re dreamwalking. It’s gentle and lulling; easy to read but in a way that isn’t condescending. The perfect style to complement the main protagonist, Nobody “Bod” Owens.

Murdered in the opening pages, we initially learn very little about Bod’s family. While his parents and sister are killed in their beds, Bod’s tenacity for escaping the confines of his cot sees him avoid the same fate befalling him. In his innocence, baby Bod plods through the open door his family’s killer has left open and up the hill to the local cemetery. His arrival causes a stir among the resident ghosts, even more so when the apparition of his mother implores them to raise the child and keep him safe.

We’re quickly introduced to a wide circle of supernatural beings, unique characters with their own mannerisms and individuality, retaining the personalities they had when they died, influenced by the era in which they lived. Mr and Mrs Owens raise Bod as if he were their own, the complexities of which Mrs Owens doesn’t begin to question. Having not had a child of her own when she was living, she’s overwhelmed by her own personal desires. There’s also Silas, an extended member of Bod’s family. Not living and not dead (and thankfully no mention of glitter), he’s the appointed guardian of Bod and a vital character in providing Bod a small yet necessary connection to the world of the living, mainly by ensuring a steady supply of food—something that ghosts don’t require or have the ability to obtain. The man Jack, known to the reader and all the residents of the graveyard (bar Bod) is the murderer of Bod’s family. There are then background characters who impact on Bod’s development, such as Eliza the witch, Miss Lupescu (a hellhound), and other ghosts.

Bod’s adventures are enhanced by the Freedom of the Graveyard, awarded to him by the ghostly residents on his arrival. Having this Freedom has allowed him the opportunities to learn particular skills usually only applicable to ghosts, such as Dreamwalking (entering and influencing the dreams of others) or Fading (becoming invisible). Whilst they’re learnt in the graveyard, Bod is free to use these valuable skills outside his unusual home.

Each chapter progresses with a self-contained story, the reader seeing changes in Bod’s behaviour and treatment by the ghosts as he grows older. These aren’t always connected but they help keep up the pace and drama. As Bod grows up, he faces the trials of life in an abnormally naive manner, having no real steer on what’s expected of him. He is instructed to have limited time outside the graveyard and to maintain no regular contact with living people. As with anyone routinely told that they cannot have something, it only makes him yearn for it more.

A delightful read for all ages, The Graveyard Book is a truly unique coming of age story, with a quirky tone and a hodgepodge of personalities.

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