Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I bought this book a long time ago – well, it can only have been four years ago at most but it feels like I made the purchase a long time ago. A friend recommended Gaiman to me, this book in particular. I listened to them in so much as I bought the book but whenever I sat in front of my bookcase looking for my next read it just never caught my eye until now.

Well, as they say, better late than never!

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperCollins
Target Audience: Children’s / YA / Adult???
Pages: 307
Chapters: 8
PoV: 3rd person
Tense : Past tense

Story: After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own. 

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family . . . 

Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

(from Goodreads)

Thoughts and impressions: My first thought upon starting this book was that the style was very singular. The opening scene is of a man wiping blood from the knife he’s just used to kill three people but the language used almost makes it sound as though the story is aimed at a younger readership.

The style continues in this same manner but the events described are sometimes quite complex. The reader is only given part of the information and left to draw their own conclusions. I’m not sure that some of what’s going on wouldn’t just go over the heads of much younger readers. That said, the content is not particularly scary – I’ve read scarier books aimed at ten-year-olds – as you might imagine from the title, the synopsis, the knowledge that a man wants to kill the main character and the fact that it all takes place in a graveyard. I found it difficult to place the target audience with this one. Whenever I see the book in the shops, it’s always in the adult section but I think the story would appeal to younger readers too.

Each chapter follows a certain even in Bod’s life and each time these events take place two years apart. For the most part, the stories aren’t particularly interconnected but they show Bod’s evolution from a toddler to a young man. In each the reader is invited to explore an area of a reality that exists alongside ours – whether this be a trip along a plane where the “ghouls” live or an encounter with a millennia-old power.

I enjoyed each and every one of the short stories from Bod’s life, though at 80+ pages the 7th was a bit of a push (I like to read chapter by chapter and not stop in the middle of one if at all possible). My favourite story was when Bod meets the ghost of a young woman who was burnt as a witch and buried on unconsecrated ground. She, Liza, has no headstones and this makes her sad so a young Bod decides to go out into the big wide world and buy one for her. I found this really sweet, especially as he’s only eight at the time.

Of course, the recurring theme across the novel is Bod’s existence in the graveyard living with the dead in a world apart from the living. Sometimes this is hard for him as he fights the urge to socialise with others like him – especially as he gets older. His struggles were always worthy of a child at whatever age he is in the chapter, though his speech did seem a bit formal. This could be put down to his having effectively been brought up by people who died anything between a hundred and just under two thousand years ago.

At one point, I thought it might turn out that “the man Jack” was some form of Jack the Ripper, what with his blade and all that. I’ve read a few novels over the past few months that incorporated Jack the Ripper in some way and I have to say that I’m glad that this book did not go down that same road. The idea of the Jacks of all trades really intrigued me; it was certainly something very different though I would have liked to have learnt more about them.

In all, this is a fairly short book. I read it in an afternoon. Dave McKean’s illustrations really serve to set it apart from the norm and I’m sure that they will make the book appeal all the more to certain readers. I have to admit that once or twice I couldn’t work out just what was being illustrated, though!

Style: The style was fairly simple, which was what led me to speculate about just what age of reader this book is aimed at. It’s one that a ten-year-old could likely tackle on their own, but it also hides more advanced hidden ideas.

Final verdict: As mentioned, this was my first Gaiman read. While I enjoyed it, I’m not chomping at the bit to go and read more by him. At times I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue reading or take a short break from the book. I might have enjoyed it more had I taken my time with it but instead I pushed through it all. This meant that I did occasionally feel worn down by the book. I’d advise other readers to not do as I did and to go at the pace their minds dictate. Maybe the book will earn a full 5 stars from these people but it gets a still good 4 stars from me.

Extra notes: I don’t think there was any bad language. No sex.


  1. Wow! Way to go, Neil Gaiman! I have litereally read nothing by him, and yet there's so much buzz going on about him, and not just in the blogging world. Nobody Owens is such a strange name! I wonder what genre Gaiman would classify this book as. I hate the indecision, because I'm not sure I want to read a children's or younger young-adult book. But, it sounds okay. Not my type of book, but you enjoyed it!
    Thanks for the review!

    Alyssa Susanna

  2. I love Neil Gaiman! I haven't read this novel yet, but I'm going to have to check it out now. Great review!


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