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)