Cannonball Read #31: The Graveyard Book03/15/2010
The Graveyard Book is a delightfully, surprising little book. I shouldn’t have been surprised, really. I knew The Graveyard Book had won the Newberry Medal, and it had gotten a lot of good word-of-mouth. But somehow it snuck up on me. Books shelved in the Young Adult section in the library don’t bother me, heck I’m just finishing the Harry Potter series for the umpteenth time. And even the subject, a dead family and abandoned child – that should have made me close it by page eight or ten at least. So I don’t know why at several points early on, I pretty much exclaimed “wow” out loud.
The story opens just after the murder of the family. The surviving baby boy escapes the killer during one of the baby’s usual evening shenanigans. The boy makes his way to the graveyard where he finds refuge, and is named Bod – short for Nobody Owens – by the ghosts there who take him in. The reader is swept into Gaiman’s premise by following an innocent, normal boy into a fantasy world. Once you’re there, Gaiman takes you further.
Life in a graveyard will of course encompass the supernatural and Gaiman is skilled in crafting a plot that wends and winds through legend and fantasy. The characters in the vast graveyard are from all different eras, and each grants Bod some bit of knowledge or strength that comes back together in the suspenseful finale. One female ghost he meets up with, Liza Hempstock, tells the tale of her conviction as a witch and how she cursed the townspeople:
“I cursed each and every one of them there on the village Green that morning, that none of then would ever rest easily in a grave. I was surprised at how easily it came, the cursing. Like dancing, it was, when your feet pick up the steps of a new measure your ears have never heard and your head don’t konw and they dance it till dawn.”
And not only does Gaiman give us this visual related by this character, but he masterfully finishes off the tale with the villagers having caught the plague from an infected carpet and all being buried in a mass grave.
Gaiman is a true storyteller, and he really shines with his latest attempt. I can’t wait to check out The Jungle Book that Gaiman, himself, mentions at the end his
“enormous debt, conscious and, I have no doubt, unconscious to Rudyard Kipling and the two volumes of his remarkable work The Jungle Book. I read them as a child, excited and impressed, and I’ve read and reread them many times since. If you are only familiar with the Disney cartoon, you should read the stories.
I will, I promise!