Everybody loves Neil Gaiman. To be honest, my early impressions weren’t that great, but since I’ve started reading his children’s books, I’ve had to revise my opinion. Fortunately, the Milk is a riotous shaggy dog tale that will entrance children and adults alike. Odd and the Frost Giants, is a fairy tale in the grand tradition, which taps into Gaiman’s trademark passion for mythology.
Gaiman draws on folk-lore for The Graveyard Book, though its influence is perhaps less overt; at least at first.
I’ll make no bones (ahem) about this. The opening of The Graveyard Book is traumatic. It starts off with a family being murdered and only a toddler escaping. It’s not graphic, but it is scary.
The toddler escapes to a graveyard, one where ghosts roam. The ghosts, wanting to protect the innocent boy take him under their protection and the nameless child becomes Nobody Owens.
The story that follows is a somewhat rambling affair, that deals with Nobody and his rather unusual upbringing. It is, in essence, a supernatural coming of age story, though in Gaiman’s hands it’s a whole lot more than that. The writing in this book is spot on. Anybody looking to show their child use of metaphor or word-choice would struggle to do better than starting here. It’s a joy to read.
The host of ghosts that inhabit the graveyard are given life well beyond their spectral forms, and the blend of fable and folk-lore into the story is masterful. Despite its meandering nature, the book is arrow-true towards the showdown between Nobody and his mysterious killer. The final chapters are tense and exciting, and, notably, not as unsettling as the beginning.
I was blown away by the quality of this book. After its sinister start, the book is a masterclass in children’s fiction. Gaiman is a writer with a huge following, and reading The Graveyard Book it’s easy to see why.