Novel Review: The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman has written another book for all ages. Despite its obvious antecedents, it ranks among his most creative and inventive works—and that is saying quite a lot.

Title: The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman
ISBN: 0060530928, 978006060530938
First published: 2008.

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After narrowly escaping the murder of his family, an infant foundling finds himself in the care of the inhabitants of an old cemetery—and at the center of a struggle involving some very dark forces indeed.

High Points:

1. This latest novel finds Gaiman in fine form. The Graveyard Book gives us a brilliantly-realized gothic graveyard, deliberately clichéd but scary villains, and a hero whose further adventures might be worth seeing—but who will probably (wisely) be contained to this book.

The author of Coraline has composed another creepy, classic young person’s book that adults can enjoy.

2. They only appear briefly, but the ghouls, who look “like full-sized people who had shrunk in the sun,” speak in “undertones,” and provide nasty hints as to their origins and intentions, stand (or skulk) among Gaiman’s more memorable creations.

Low Points:

1. Chapter Five recalled a little too much for me a certain chapter of The Sandman, and I felt it added too little to the story. Perhaps I may feel differently the next time through..

2. I know that Gaiman had to keep the younger readers in mind, but I felt he shortchanged some of the final confrontations. Have no fear, however: he remains a writer quite willing to send nasty people to nasty ends.

The Scores:

Originality: 5/6. Gaiman acknowledges his debt to The Jungle Book, and readers will notice echoes of Tolkien and Gaiman’s own Sandman, among others. However, Gaiman, as always, offers so many bizarre and original concepts that the story plays as very original.

Imagery: 6/6: I like the way Gaiman describes his ghosts, in terms of “moonlight, mist, and shadow”(12) and things that aren’t quite there, until they slip into full view. The novel features fully realized settings and states of mind:

The boy walked back down the southwest side of the hill, avoiding the old chapel: he did not want to see the place that Silas wasn’t. Bod stopped beside a grave that looked the way he felt: it was beneath an oak that had once been struck by lighting, and now was just a black trunk, like a sharp talon coming out of the hill; the grave itself was waterstained and cracked, and above it was a memorial stone on which a headless angel hung, its robes looking like a huge and ugly tree-fungus(74).

Story: 5/6. Some of the key events seem shortchanged, but overall, I found myself eager for the next page.

Characterization: 5/6. Gaiman presents us with central characters either developed or suggesting hidden depths. While this is less true of the villains, they serve their purpose. My only real complaint concerns Bod’s relationship with Scarlett. I never felt we knew enough about her to make their friendship really believable.

Emotional Response: 5/6. Gaiman has written a book filled with frequently charming dead people who make a strong case for breathing, heart-beating, messy, brilliant, beautiful life.

Editing: 6/6.

Overall score: 6/6. In this strange year when three of the Hugo nominees for best novels are aimed (though not exclusively) at young readers, this, thus far, stands the best chance of getting my vote. Of course, I have two others left to review before the July 3 deadline.

In total, The Graveyard Book receives 38/42