“The Graveyard Book”- Book Review
This past month I decided to revisit the work of an author who had a firm hand in shaping my life-long interest in storytelling. British writer Neil Gaiman is responsible for some of the best books I read growing up. His 2002 dark fantasy novella, Coraline, was a frequent re-rental from my elementary school library, and for a short time in middle school, I was transfixed by his more folk-ish story, Stardust. The latter, I think, was one of the last mature fantasy books I read before succumbing to the pre-teen vampire romance craze of the late-2000s. But I digress. Getting back to Gaiman was a treat, especially during quarantine.
That treat in particular was The Graveyard Book, a young adult fantasy inspired by Rudyard Kiplin’s 1894 story collection, The Jungle Book. The plot revolves around a boy named Nobody Owens- “Bod” for short- who is adopted as an infant by the ghosts of a local graveyard after his family is horrifically murdered. Years pass, and Bod spends much of his young life walking amongst the dead, chatting with ghostly neighbors, exploring the catacombs, and having adventures with rowdy ghouls. While life in the graveyard is fine and good, Bod’s curiosity about the outside world continues to grow. Soon he feels like he’s ready to venture beyond the graveyard ages, to get a taste of a life among the living. What he doesn’t know is that the dark forces behind his family’s murder have been waiting for him, and they’re ready to strike at any moment.
Like Gaiman’s other stories, the most striking aspect of The Graveyard Book is its creativity. Gaiman has always been great at introducing interesting worlds, ones that establish a good balance between being modern and feeling timeless. The same can be said about the setting of this novel. Ninety-percent of the story takes place in the graveyard, so if there’s nothing about it that’s interesting, you’re in for a dull journey, no matter how engaging the characters or prose are. Thankfully that’s not the case here. We explore multiple facets of the graveyard through Bod’s interactions with the colorful characters- all of whom come from different time periods- that reside there. Bod himself is pretty likeable as well. Albeit kind of a blank slate, he’s still endearingly curious and easy to sympathize with.
The latter can be said about most of the characters in the book. Though as engaging as they are, I could’ve used a little more of their stories. For instance, Bod’s mentor, an elusive man named Silas, plays a substantial role in Bod’s upbringing, and yet we know so little about him. There’s even a part towards the end where it goes back and forth between a confrontation scene with Bod and a side quest that his mentor, Silas, is completing. We don’t know how Silas got there, and it’s never really explained. It would’ve been cool to see more of his adventures and learn more about who- and what- he is.
As a whole, the book strikes an delightfully ghoulish tone, which makes for a fun read. Some portions can feel a tad too slow. The book is definitely more character-driven than plot-driven, so there are a lot of scenes with things just happening, which is okay because they’re written very well. And while there is motivation from the protagonist’s standpoint- a drive to learn more about the outside world- the lack of significant push in the plot’s structure can affect the pacing. But besides that, this is a really good read. Gaiman’s prose is once again imaginative and technically solid. The characters are good, the villains are effectively eerie, and most importantly, The Graveyard Book offers a much-needed taste of magic.
Cosmic Grade: A-