The line between life and death

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman

Yet again looking for a quick, undemanding read, I picked up another of Gaiman’s children’s books. Once again I was reminded that not all children’s books work as easy adult reads.

Gaiman’s prose is beautiful, expertly bringing to life each scene. The story is original, with lots of twists and turns. The characters tread a fine line between over-the-top grotesque and real-life normality; definitely believable. But somehow…I wasn’t kept interested.

The story is that of Bod (short for Nobody), a boy who is raised in a graveyard after his family are murdered. The ghostly inhabitants of the graveyard club together to provide him with education and support, but his main guardian is Silas, not a ghost but some other creature who is neither alive nor dead. Bod is discouraged from leaving the graveyard because Silas is convinced that the man who killed his family still wants Bod dead.

The book opens brilliantly with the murder of Bod’s family, from the perspective of the killer. The pages are illustrated evocatively by Dave McKean and I genuinely thought from that first chapter that I would love this book. Certainly I love that this is a children’s book unafraid to talk about death – murder even – and from the interesting perspective of having ghosts be, for the most part, friendly or at least benign creatures. I also like that not every mystery raised is solved.

However, whether it was too vague an overarching story (each chapter is a separate adventure, a year or two after the last one) or something else, I wasn’t engrossed. Maybe I’ll switch back to Gaiman’s adult books now.

Published 2008 by Bloomsbury.

See also reviews from Col Reads, Farm Lane Books Blog and Girls Gone Reading.