Book Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman


gbbook1Unlike Gaiman’s earlier works, The Graveyard Book is almost strictly about atmosphere.  There is the graveyard itself, which Nobody Owens calls home; the mysterious and sinister creatures that populate the night; and the ghosts, who are both otherworldly and utterly familiar.  Gaiman weaves a dark  mood in the first chapter that lingers right through to the end.

The Graveyard Book is captivating from the start, aided by the simple and yet effectively creepy illustrations by Dave McKean.  The story is set as an infant escapes his family’s murderer, only to find sanctuary in the local graveyard.  The kindly ghosts take him in and raise him as their own, and Bod — short for Nobody — grows up amidst all the imagination Gaiman has to offer.

Gaiman’s strength lies in his ability to think in unexpected patterns, but he has not yet perfected the art of making them work toward a common goal.  Bod’s adventures in both the world of the living and the world of the dead highlight points of change or lessons learned, but the effect is never cumulative.  The pacing and story stumble through numerous time leaps as Gaiman jumps to his favorite parts and abandons the rest.  As the timeline vaults years to keep up with Bod’s age, the story fragments along with it.  We see the pieces of Bod’s life which Gaiman has deemed important or necessary, but they never feel natural and do little to complete an overall portrait of Bod’s world.

Unsurprisingly, the quality of writing is at its worst when Gaiman works hardest at it.  Some of the descriptions ring true, but far more bewilder.  In an effort to keep atmosphere at the forefront of The Graveyard Book, Gaiman has turned to the familiar weapon of the purple prose writer: flat-out incomprehensibility.

The Graveyard Book, p. 194

“You will do as you are told, boy,” said Silas, a knot of velvet anger in the darkness.

There are several spots like this, in which Gaiman strains so hard to keep the mood that the readers can very nearly hear him striking the keys harder than usual.

The title of The Graveyard Book alone begs comparison to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.  But, where Mowgli has no choice but to return to the human world, Bod is less inclined to rejoin the living.  His forays into the world of the living are never what he expected and almost always disappoint; and when he finally does go out into the world, he does so unarmed and unprepared.

Overall, The Graveyard Book is by no means an unpleasant read, but it leaves its audience wanting.  Bod’s inability to fit in anywhere — either in the world of the dead or of the living — cast his return to life in an uncertain light.  The Graveyard Book is thematically enjoyable but suffers from plotting issues that leaves it holding decidedly less than it should.

Atmospheric but lazy and ultimately disappointing, The Graveyard Book can’t match the thoroughness of Gaiman’s Anansi Boys or Neverwhere, but it should still find a ready audience among the younger set.

Excerpt:

 
 

The child had been here. It was here no longer. The man Jack followed his nose down the stairs through the middle of the tall, thin house. He inspected the bathroom, the kitchen, the airing cupboard, and, finally, the downstairs hall, in which there was nothing to be seen but the family’s bicycles, a pile of empty shopping bags, a fallen diaper, and the stray tendrils of fog that had insinuated themselves into the hall from the open door to the street.

The man Jack made a small noise then, a grunt that contained in it both frustration and also satisfaction. He slipped the knife into its sheath in the inside pocket of his long coat, and he stepped out into the street. There was moonlight, and there were streetlights, but the fog stifled everything, muted light and muffled sound and made the night shadowy and treacherous. He looked down the hill towards the light of the closed shops, then up the street, where the last high houses wound up the hill on their way to the darkness of the old graveyard.

 
 

Rating: C+

[Amazon]

neil gaiman the graveyard book book review aydee

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~ by AyDee on December 27, 2008.

7 Responses to “Book Review: The Graveyard Book”

  1. Thanks for the review. I have been waiting for a good review of this particular book since a store clerk recommended it for my younger cousin. But, she happened to tell me she was a BIG fan of Neil Gaiman. . .

    On occasion, “I am a BIG fan of _______,” has steered me wrong in the past. But, I never got around to actually looking for a review to confirm any suspicions. Conveniently it was one of the choices I noticed on your list as I browsed your site.

    Hope to catch more reviews from you in the future. Take care.

    • Glad to help, but keep in mind that if your cousin’s in the 10-13 age range, s/he might like it well enough. I’m not a good barometer for that age group.

      Book recommendations should never be taken from strangers, especially when that stranger is attempting to sell you books. Try finding someone whose opinion in books is your polar opposite, then read whatever they hate. It’s worked well for me so far.

      See you around!

  2. You’re welcome. I actually went ahead and bought him the book after giving it a glance through. In fact, I think I will finish it myself. I’ve been so bored as of late. . .

    I couldn’t agree more. I would never trust a salespersons recommendation. And in response to your tips on reading success, I’d read the books they hate just to spite some of them. ¿^^

    Oh, and I believe it was you who wrote a Final Fantasy 12 review not too long. I just wanted to sound off in agreement. It was one of the best video game reviews I have read in recent memory.

    Later!

  3. That’s the one! If I had not been so tired and lazy, I probably could have confirmed that it was indeed your review. Then I could have avoided that silly little thing I do where I write exactly what I am thinking. . .

    Anyway, your FFXII review was magical. I’d elaborate, but this is not the place, and I haven’t the time.

    This is however, the place for comments on your review of The Graveyard Book. Getting to that, I finished the book no more than 10 minutes ago and agree with your review almost entirely. The book was definitely about atmosphere, and I rather liked some of the little themes addressed. There was a quote in there that I haven’t the time to rummage for. It spoke of the potential someone has who is alive. . . Albeit rather obvious, I thought it was cute, for lack of a manlier word.

    I can safely say that I would have enjoyed this book more so in my youth. So I will. . . Aloud; “I would have enjoyed this book more so in my youth.” And now I wait for some unseen danger. . . And continue.

    I believe that The Graveyard Book has earned your C+ rating. . . I hope it wears this badge of honour with pride.

    Now, getting to my lack of time. . . I must at least attempt sleeping. Goodnight.

    WAIT! Charming, I suppose that would have been a manlier word. . .

  4. I like your reviews :) thanks for taking the time.

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