Offering an absolutely stunning fantasy novel about life, death, family and growing up, Neil Gaiman doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fear for death and the dark that repels people from visiting graveyards at night. He doesn’t even consider that death and fear shouldn’t be themes for a children’s book. In his best-selling novel, “The Graveyard Book”, Gaiman combines the charm of life with the macabre of death creating a delightful metaphor of childhood.
Presenting the graveyard as a sanctuary from danger and reflecting the boundaries between the graveyard and the living world, “The Graveyard Book” starts with the murders of a husband, wife and daughter that are already accomplished when the story begins. The fourth member of the family, an 18-month-old baby, escapes Jack, the mysterious knife-wielding killer, and toddles to a nearby graveyard.
Following the baby’s scent, Jack enters the graveyard. Although he is sure the baby is there, still he cannot trace him. Confused and disturbed, he tries to understand what a baby boy would do in a graveyard at night and all of a sudden he decides to leave the graveyard and take the downhill street. Convinced that he had mixed the scents, Jack heads off.
The graveyard’s inhabitants, a vampire, a witch and the ghosts of the dead, save the boy and nurse him. A ghost couple, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, adopts him and gives him a name. As Bod – the short for Nobody Owens – grows older, he gets used to the dark, learns the secrets of the graveyard, receives the Freedom of the Graveyard and learns his strengths and weaknesses.
Scared that Jack would return for him, Bod learns how to hide in plain sight and decides to stay at the graveyard, quiet and unreachable, until he realizes that all his accomplishments have no value in the world of the living. So, then he decides to confront the enemy.
Bod is a pleasant character. Although he feels lonely, he knows that his graveyard friends love him. Possessing great courage for his age and knows how to think properly, Bod grows up in maturity and good judgment. His education comprises both of Renaissance humours and Victorian manners, but also of how to fade, slide and dream-walk. The characters that surround Bod are also wonderful with their distinctive behavior and characteristics and all together they induce to the reader the norms of a graveyard.
Great writing doesn’t have to be pompous. Meticulously balanced between mystery and revelation, “The Graveyard Book” is a masterpiece of children’s literature. Ranging between hunt and meditation, triviality and craziness, this brief, spicy adventure has mystery, stimulation and insight in equal doses. Gaiman’s excellent writing and Dave McKean’s illustrations offer that little extra something that makes “The Graveyard Book” a book of quality, atmosphere and fantasy. Mc Kean’s drawings, without being frightening, reflect the physical differences between Bod and the inhabitants of the graveyard. The boy is depicted as a solid person, while the other characters are rather ethereal.
“The Graveyard Book” is an outright appealing story that is skilfully narrated through an amusing cast of ghostly characters. Gaiman conveys the message of freedom even if this is exercised among gravestones and creates an almost homey atmosphere. Readers focus on the scary and unreal story of Bod, but Gaiman’s writing is so expressively sincere that readers are carried away in a magic world. This contradiction between fear, mystery and magic makes “The Graveyard Book” a haunting prose.
“The Graveyard Book” will be adapted for filmmaking and directed by Neil Jordan, the Irish Academy Award-winning director.