I’ve been keen to re-enter Neil Gaiman’s world of whimsy after reading Stardust, a very funny story accompanied by some gorgeous artwork. The Graveyard Book seemed like the perfect follow-up. It’s a story about Nobody Owens, or Bod, for short. He’s a boy who grows up in a graveyard.
After his parents are murdered by a mysterious man named Jack, when he is just a toddler, the inhabitants of the graveyard agree to take care of him. And so, together with his new parents – the dead Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a vampire for a guardian, and the other ghosts of the graveyard, Bod grows up and learns about life, well, from the dead.
The Graveyard Book very much follows Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book in format at least. It begins with Bod as a young child, the chapters being self-contained adventures of life in the graveyard, with Bod gradually getting older. As he gets older, he becomes more curious about life outside of the graveyard. It’s with great unease that his caretakers realize that despite the fact they have good reason to believe he’s still danger, they can’t keep Bod in the graveyard forever.
Soon, his adventures go further afield. It’s almost ironic, after having survived being kidnapped by ghouls and other such adventures that Nobody Owens finds even greater challenges in dealing with the school bully. Not that he doesn’t have a few tricks up his sleeve, after all, he was raised in a graveyard, and has learned many skills from the dead, most important of which is to not get noticed. Of course, Bod is still in danger, and finds that he must face the mysterious man named Jack before he is able to explore the world of the living.
As much as I enjoyed The Graveyard Book itself, in some ways, the story is rather thin. As a grown up, I would rather have learned more about Jack and the reasons why Bod must be killed. I certainly would like to have learned more about Silas. Then again, if I were a child, I probably wouldn’t care as much about the if’s and why’s of Jack, except to acknowledge that it was a very thrilling ending, and while I would be dead keen on learning more about Silas, I also love that he is so mysterious.
And that’s the thing. The Graveyard Book is not just for children though the main protagonist is a child. In fact what stands out more than the story itself is the wonderful cast of characters in the graveyard. I’m almost certain that Gaiman only selected the choicest of Bod’s adventures in the graveyard for the novel, because with that rich a background of characters, you know he had many a tale to tell.
Some reviewers have remarked that unlike other books of recent years, this is clearly only meant to be one novel, which, despite a somewhat open ending, is true. However I can’t help but hope that maybe Gaiman might put out a few other short stories from the graveyard because I for one was quite sad to put this book down.