REVIEW: 'The Graveyard Book' Written by Neil Gaiman and Illustrated by Dave McKean

The Graveyard Book (2008) by Neil Gaiman is a illustrated children’s novel published in hardcover by HarperCollins.

Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’ according to the author, is directly inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book.’ Just replace the wild animals of the jungle with the ghosts in the graveyard and what you have is a imaginatively fun story.

The novel opens with a grisly murder of a family. By chance, the toddler and only survivor happens to take a midnight stroll that leads him to the graveyard up the street. The man Jack, realizing that his quarry has escaped, goes looking for him, with knife in hand.

The denizens of the graveyard who realize what has happened to the baby’s family, decide to intervene on the toddler’s behalf by running the murderer off. The Owens family who had no children of their own while alive, decide to be the boy’s adopted parents. The graveyard folk agree to protect the newly orphaned baby and grant him sanctuary thereby giving him the ‘the freedom of the graveyard’. Silas, who is a mysterious fellow, is appointed as the baby’s guardian.

Nobody Owens who goes by “Bod” spends most of his formative years calling the graveyard home. As a living person, he is granted certain powers that is usually reserved for the dead. Such as seeing clearly in the dark. He can also fade, dream walk and go through inanimate objects. He can also manipulate people’s emotions by making them feel fear or terror.

The graveyard ghosts are bound by the land where their bones are interred so therefore, they are not allowed to leave the property. Only Silas is allowed to come and go as he is neither dead nor alive. He provides Bod with his meals and his clothes. As for Bod’s lessons, he is taught by the people in the graveyard. Silas is the only one to provide him with information that is current and the two grow to be very close.

Much of the story follows Bod and the story spans about 15 years. We watch him grow up and make mistakes along the way. Bod is a young kid who is inquisitive and curious. He is chivalrous, heroic and clever. I liked Bod a lot. The only living friend he has outside of the graveyard is a young girl named Scarlett Perkins who he met when he was five. The two grow up briefly together but then they are separated when Scarlett’s family moves to Scotland. They meet up again some ten years later.

Bod has many misadventures. He’s taught about the bad things that he should avoid in the world of dead by Mrs. Lupescu. She teaches Bod about ghouls, ghoul-gates, Night-Gaunts and Ghluheim. Of course we run into the ghouls, who trick Bod into visiting their world. That part of the story made me read pretty fast and provided a spot of humor and some suspenseful moments.

There’s plenty of eerie places in the graveyard to generate a chilly atmosphere for suspense. For starter’s, there’s the forbidden part of the graveyard that Bod is never to visit called Potter’s Field, where a witch is supposed to be buried. And last but not least, there’s a mausoleum that houses a indescribable creature that turns the hair white of greedy mortal men, who dare to partake of the treasure they find there.

Aside from Bod’s extraordinary childhood, there is the mystery surrounding the murder of his parents. We learn that the villain is still looking for him some 15 years later and he uses artifice to ensnare our hero, too. The motive behind the death of Bod’s family has to do with prophesy. Nothing surprising there.

Despite the predictable ending, I was still heavily invested in the resolution. I’d grown close to Bod despite the short length of this story. The ending had me feeling apprehensive for him as he is thrust out to finally live his life among the living. I felt like a mother, letting her son go out into the world and hoping all will be well. The story incorporates important themes that included but are not limited to living life to the fullest, learning from your mistakes and asserting courage and self confidence.

This is a children’s story and it does have cross-over appeal to me. There are glowing five star reviews but I can’t say that I loved this book as much as they did. There were some slow spots and I did put this book down more than once. It’s not a compulsively readable book to me but entertaining nonetheless. Also, there is much of the plot that I didn’t mention if you so choose to read this book; there are hidden mysteries and surprises in store for you as well.

In a strange way, I liked that the story was set in a graveyard. The ghosts who encompassed the graveyard made this story an interesting one. More than a few characters were introduced with the year of their death followed by the writing of their headstones in parenthesis. The graveyard that they inhabit is more of a natural persevere with people buried there from the time of the Druids.

I liked that Silas was mysterious and he was by far the most interesting character for me. I liked how the hidden talents of the characters were revealed in order to be a surprise; others remained somewhat elusive. You didn’t know who was what in here. The author generated plenty of suspense and intrigue in sections that had me quickly turning pages.

In the end, however, this is Bod’s story. After an extraordinary beginning, where does his life lead him to next? I hope we get an answer to that. Anyway, I finally read my first Neil Gaiman book. I look forward to reading more. There’s very little violence or gore in here but there are a few scary moments. The targeted age group is 9 to 12. This is a very imaginative story with a few scattered illustrations that rendered ok in ebook. A good read overall. B.

This book is available in ebook at Fictionwise and Kindle.

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5 Responses to REVIEW: 'The Graveyard Book' Written by Neil Gaiman and Illustrated by Dave McKean

  1. Li says:

    I’m planning on getting this one! I just read M is for Magic – there is a Bod short story in there, and I loved the quirky premise. Question: do you know if the ebook has the same illustrations as the print version?

  2. Avid Reader says:

    Hey Li: Yes, I should have mentioned that. The illustrations are in the ebook as well.

  3. Li says:

    Ooops… that was me doing some careless speed-reading! Upon re-reading, I noticed you did mention it in your last paragraph – thanks for answering 🙂

    The print edition I saw in the bookstore had a different cover to the one you’ve included (possibly a different artist?). I had a quick flip through, and I loved its illustrations, so I was wondering if I needed to spring for the print version to view them.

  4. Avid Reader says:

    Li – Sorry to get back to you so late. The UK edition has a different artist. I saw it and liked that cover much better than the US cover.

  5. Pingback: Neil Gaiman - The Graveyard Book « Fyrefly’s Book Blog

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