Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

As I type I’m using a shitty roll away keyboard that I hate and sitting in almost complete darkness because I’m aware that it’s been entirely too long since I updated this thing. It won’t be excellent , but I’m saving my wit to fucking eviscerate the next on my list. It’s dreadful. Also, by way of a further excuse, Academia is kicking my arse and I find myself unable to devote as much time to my escapism as I’d like. I made the mistake of starting a really horrific book so it’s taking me much longer to read simply because I don’t want to. The Graveyard Book was escaping from my shitty escapism, and jolly fun it was too.

The blurb:
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Apart from the fact that he lives in a graveyard and is being raised and educated by ghosts and his guardian belongs to neither the world of the living or the dead.
There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of the ghouls; friendship with a witch and so much more.
But it is in the land of the living that the real dangers lurk, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.
A deliciously dark masterwork by bestselling author Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Dave McKean.

Ok, I don’t love the illustrations as much as I might. When I have the money and I’m feeling particularly extravagant I’ll probably buy the other cover with no illustrations for just that reason. They’re too bloopy for me. An art critic I amn’t, but that’s what I think. The book itself though is gorgeous. It feels a little directionless at first, and if you read the author’s explanation of how the book came to be, it’s obvious why. He describes it as a series of short stories here and he kind of articulates here that he originally was going to stop without any direction until his daughter wanted to know what happened next. I’m not complaining, but from where I was reading it was a little obvious. Perhaps I recognised the style of his short stories rather than that of his novels and got really confused. I enjoyed it, but found myself more on many tiny little waves of stories rather than one huge great arc.

Things I loved about the book were many. My own fascination with graves and the things that are inscribed on them was very much satisfied by all of Bod’s friends. “Lost to all but memory” is particular favourite of mine, and as one character poignantly puts it “She’s probably lost even to that now.” I think the idea of it being all that’s left of you is why I’m so fascinated. Anyway, I digress; it was a cool detail that I very much enjoyed.

My favourite character was a stern lady called Mrs. Lupescu who is a real bad ass and a Hound of Fucking God (you can guess which word I added). There are lots of nice bits of mythology slotted in and completely strange and hilarious fully formed characters that you only see once, which makes the world seem massive rather than limited to Bod’s view of the graveyard and a few bits beyond. The many short stories format does allow for a far greater variety of flights of fancy, and since when was that ever a bad thing? I’ve always been hugely envious of Gaiman’s ability to use tropes you’ve heard dozens of times without them ever sounding cliché. I’m also a fan of him bringing up the afterlife and even the G-O-D word without ever actually attempting to explain it. I always feel a bit patronised when the afterlife is attempted with any real assumption of knowledge. Always best to just leave it be.

The ghosts are all really delightful and their constant explanation to Bod why he has to leave the graveyard even though he knows there’s an afterlife is kind of pointed but subtle enough that it doesn’t get wearing. Though I did find myself joining in with his whiny chorus of “Why can’t I just staaaaaay?” once or twice. I do love a good graveyard. I did feel as though the constant explanation for why he couldn’t was Gaiman making absolutely sure that we knew there was a reason he must leave so he could finish the book. The book is also based on The Jungle Book which has a far better explanation for why Mowgli has to leave. I’m probably just bitter that the books I love keep breaking my heart. Damn, even Neverwhere, which is for actual grown-ups, was never this sad.

The book pretty much deals with death, which is a conclusion you might have gotten to on your own. It’s sad in a lot of places and probably for its intended age group, a bit scary sometimes. The last twenty or so pages had me in bits, but hand me any coming of age story and I’ll be in tears by the final chapter. Ask me about Deathly Hallows and the sex shop some time. I’m a fool for lost innocence. However, what I will say for this particular one is that Bod always knows he’s going back, unlike Neverland and Wonderland where you’re pretty much barred once you hit puberty/consciousness. It was a less sad ending for that reason, but there are a ton of other sad endings in there that had me in floods of tears by myself on the train.
What the cover reviews say:

“A novel that is a captivating piece of work, light as fresh grave dirt, haunting as the inscription on a tombstone.” Financial Times

Ooh, get that poetry from Financial Times.

They’re absolutely right, of course.

“Brilliant atmospheric writing.” Irish Examiner

Again, oui!

“A memorable captivating read.” The Times

Christ, they were reaching for the good reviews, no? Yes. They’re right.

There are lots more. Surprisingly they all say nice things.
Gosh, I think this is quite long enough, no?

I give it 5 heads. Pretend the last one is crying its fucking eyes out, k? Don’t say I never do anything for you.