Thursday, October 30, 2008

SPOTLIGHT: Halowe'en Reading - The Graveyard Book

With Hallowe'en coming up tomorrow, what better way than to post a mini-review of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book?

Neil Gaiman spins another great coming of age tale, with his typical dry sense of humor and plausibly rendered supernatural in The Graveyard Book. Gaiman’s story center’s on Nobody “Bod” Owens, a boy orphaned as a small child and taken in by the ghosts at a nearby graveyard. Bod learns all the important things in life (and the afterlife): how to Shift (disappear), inspire fear, and commune with the dead. In short, he learns how to become a ghost. Bod’s ghostly family includes his adoptive ‘parents’ Mr. and Mrs. Owens, guardian Silas, witch friend Liza and his human friend Scarlett. As he grows into young adulthood, Bod yearns to learn more about the about the living world beyond the graveyard. He soon learns growing amongst the Dead isn’t all games after all; Jack the Man (the man who killed Bod’s family) is after Bod and wants to finish the job. Underneath everything, Gaiman skillfully hints at powers beyond even those Bod encounters.

Like Coraline, Gaiman’s last novel for younger readers, The Graveyard Book is timeless and endearing with a superb conclusion that will resonate with readers of all ages. One connection with Gaiman’s earlier work I couldn’t help guessing at during the course of the narrative was between Shadow from his multiple-award winning American Gods. In a strange way, The Graveyard Game can be viewed almost as Shadow: The Early Years, with Shadow’s past being so mysterious, at least in American Gods although Shadow’s true identity was disclosed in the short story Monarch of the Glen. (Which reminds me that I still need to read Fragile Things and re-read American Gods).

The novel is illustrated throughout by Gaiman’s longtime collaborator, Dave McKean, whose moody images magnificently capture the essence of Gaiman’s story. Gaiman’s many fans will delight at his new spin on some of his recurring themes such as death, dreaming, abnormal family, and what lies ‘beyond the fields we know.’ One can’t help be reminded of his long-running, groundbreaking Sandman saga as Bod wanders through the graveyard speaking with ghosts and evading the dark specter of death personified by Jack the Man. Bod also has some dreamy/dreamlike conversations and hints of Morpheus can be extrapolated. One can also draw comparisons between the emotionless Morpheus and Bod’s guardian of little words, Silas. Of course, as a fan of most of Gaiman’s work, I might be predisposed to seeing such connections

This unique ghost story is endlessly charming, wonderfully resonant, magically evocative, and compulsively readable. With the perfectly evoked balmy feel of the Graveyard, this is a book to return to at Hallowe’en every year.

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