The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

I think I must be one of the very last bloggers on the planet to get around to reading this. I am prepared to be honest and say I have had this on the TBR since it came out in hardback and went off the idea of actually reading after seeing everyone going doolally (in a lovely way – I am not being catty) about it on the blogosphere and that making the hype and expectation too great. However its thanks to some of the other guides at Highgate that I ended up picking this up when we were discussing Highgate based books a few weeks ago, like Tracy Chevaliers ‘Falling Angels’ and Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’, and they told me that the latter author took Neil Gaiman around to help with inspiration for this book! How could I not read it after that?

I think any book that opens with the murder of a child’s parents (and in this case sibling) leaving an orphaned boy alone in the world will instantly make a reader think of Harry Potter. It is this such an opening that Gaiman chooses for ‘The Graveyard Book’ however the book then becomes nothing like HP particularly as in this case the orphan who becomes named Nobody, or ‘Bod’ for short, isn’t saved by wizards but by something else a little spookier after evading the murdered and hiding himself in the local cemetery.

Yes, Bod is saved from his fate by ghosts. In fact two particular married ghosts Mr and Mrs Owens, who died without having had children though they always wanted to, take pity on this living young boy and want to keep him, something not all the ghosts in the graveyard feel quite so similar about. However the ‘caretaker’ of the graveyard Silas who agrees to be the boys guardian and so Bod is brought up in amongst the mystery and the dead of the tombstones however he can’t leave as there is still a murder out to get him, but Bod thinks with all the knowledge he gains as he grows up that that particular rule might be for breaking.

I thought this book was really rather wonderful and I wasn’t expecting it which made it all the more so (in fact I was expecting it to have the effect The Hunger Games had on me – best say no more). I loved the atmosphere of the cemetery and think Gaiman had got that spot on. I didn’t quite get the concept of the ghoul-gate and got a little confused but later understood its importance. What I loved the most was the characters. The Owens are a wonderful pair of down to earth and rather soft ghosts, Silas is a cool customer with lots too hide and I loved Liza Hempstock (a witch) and Miss Lupescu too. I thought Gaiman’s touch of introducing each deceased character by their epitaph was a brilliant way of instantly giving you their character.

Lots of readers, and indeed the author himself, have mentioned how this is a retelling of ‘The Jungle Book’ only instead of a jungle you have a necropolis. I personally couldn’t see that myself, but then again I have only seen the Disney version and never read the book, if it’s as good as this (I know it should be the other way around) then I must be missing out.

I mentioned back at the start of my thoughts that reading the first chapter of ‘The Graveyard Book’ I was highly concerned it was trying to be the new Harry Potter, it was the orphaning opening that did it, yet this book is clearly only trying to be itself, nothing else, and by the time I reached the end I was rather annoyed there isn’t a series and therefore not a further six books to read. A book that has a certain magic about it that Gaiman weaves so well. 8.5/10 (This does of course leave me feeling utterly conflicted about ‘cross over books’ once again, ha!)

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners (apart from the two at the top):
Never The Bride – Paul Magrs (spooky goings on with adventure and comedy in Whitby that appeal to our inner child)
The Whitby Witches – Robin Jarvis (one of my favourite children’s books ever and one of my favourite reads full stop, deserves to get a much bigger readership)


Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Neil Gaiman, Review

31 responses to “The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

  1. I’ve not read it – so you’re still ahead of me!!

    • If you get a chance to give it a read Verity then do as its a delightful short read with some wonderful characters that I think appeals to the inner child in all of us.

  2. Dot

    I only read this recently but I thought that is was good, I was intrigued by Silas!

    • Yes Gaiman keeps you slightly in the dark (pun not intended) with Silas and his background which I found rather interesting. I think we can all guess just what Silas might be yet we are never quite sure.

  3. LizF

    I’ve read a lot of rave reviews about this book and about Neil Gaiman’s work in general but have always been a bit wary for some reason.
    Your mention of similarities to the wonderful Whitby Witches however has made me think that I need to read this and soon.
    I read all Robin Jarvis’s Whitby books, first to my children and then for myself when they wanted to read the books on their own, and I loved them. It probably has a lot to do with a lifelong love of Whitby itself (I first went as a toddler in the very early 60’s and have been going more or less every year at some time or other for the past thirty, which makes me feel very old!) but I really enjoyed the writing and the way the story pulls you in as well.
    Thanks for this.

    • I have to say (and I didnt put this in the post but I should have) that until this book I have never read a book by Neil Gaiman though I have always wanted to. Working as a tour guide at Highgate this had an added personal interest for me and so I thought it would be a good place to start.

      I have to say I dont think I read the Whitby series further. Isn’t that bizarre?

      If you want an adult version of the Whitby books try Paul Magrs Brenda and Effie books they are spot on.

  4. Loved this book when I read it… late last year I think? The story is so lightly spooky, full of fun, even with such a dark beginning. I, too, wish there were sequels!

    • I really wish there were sequels but then I guess sometimes its nice just to have the one that you can go back and re-read someday. I will be saving mine for my children in the distant future.

  5. If this book would have been another HP wannabe, I would have had a huge fit. But it wasn’t! I read this with my kids (my mom thought I had absolutely lost my mind when she read the first chapter) and we all thought it was the perfect touch of fantasy, whimsy, and thriller. Loved it!

    • I think I might have to buy this for my little sister as one of her birthday presents, they will be coming to London in the summer and hopefully on one of my tours! So this might be a nice book to have her read after, or even before. At twelve she is just as much a book worm as my Gran, Mum and me.

  6. I’m glad that you loved this one. It’s so incredibly rich for a children’s book. It might even be my favorite Gaiman (although I’m still reading through his books).

  7. I’m glad that you loved this one! It’s so incredibly rich for a children’s book. It might even be my favorite Gaiman (although I’m still reading through his books). The ending was incredibly heartbreaking, wasn’t it?

    • Hahahaha no worries on the double post Kristen it happens now and agian on blogs.

      I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading more of Gaiman’s fiction in the future. I wouldn’t say I found the ending heartbreaking but it was quite moving.

  8. gaskella

    I too bought it immediately it came out, and it’s still sitting there on the reading soon pile. Glad you enjoyed it – I must read it soon, especially as it has been shortlisted for the Carnegie medal this year.

  9. I could be putting my head on the chopping block here but I just don’t “get” Neil Gaiman. I’ve tried to read two of his books and can never get beyond the first couple of chapters. In both instances, I simply gave the books to my local charity store rather than suffer through them.

    • Right… where’s my axe? Ha! Not at all Kim, I hadnt really gotten it until I read this which was only because everyone at Highgate was going on about it and I happened to have a copy so I thought ‘why not?’

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  11. I still have to read The Graveyard Book. I have to admit that waiting to read it didn’t help me in having high expectations. I’m actually saving the book because I expect to enjoy it a lot.

    • I think if a book gets raved about and then you leave it and leave it either the book gets over hyped or as you say you can put added expectations on it. Sometimes though all the hype is justified.

  12. I really enjoyed this book too. I think it definitely has the crossover appeal of Harry Potter, but it hasn’t taken off yet.

    • I think it has and it hasnt, I know lots and lots of people who have read it but then I know several people who have never heard of it. Its like any book in that way I suppose. I think its going to take a very special book to ever gain Harry Potter status.

  13. It’s interesting that you (and Mr. Gaimon) mention the Jungle Book. Honestly, I don’t see it. True both are about orphans raised by an odd set of “adults” but that is a standard trope in young adult and children’s literature. Kids books are full of orphans. In fact, it’s a bit unusual to find a hero with two parents in a kids book.

    The most profound fear a child has is the death of a parent. Childrens books are full of heros looking for a father or mother or an entirely new family. And young readers get the vicarious thrill of independance orphan characters have as they follow their path to survival without a mother or father.

    This is not at all particular to the Jungle Book or The Graveyard Book.

    • No I didnt get the Jungle Book point the author makes either as I said above. Mind you having said that I have only seen the film.

      It’s very true what you say about orphans in kids books. I wonder why a child in a normal family environment (whatever normal is nowadays) cant have lots of marvellous adventures. Puzzling. Oh hang on they did in Peter Pan, thats the only one I can think of at the moment. But then Peter Pan was a sort of orphan I guess.

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  18. I’m new to the wonders of neil gaiman and will definitely be giving this book a try!

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