Wow, Neil Gaiman. I love and hate him because he’s such a wonderful writer. How can all of those stories, all of those people, all of those worlds, exist in one person’s head? Everything he writes is beautiful and unsettling. Unsettlingly beautiful, or beautifully unsettling? Either way, the man is a master.
The Graveyard Book is billed as a children’s book, but it is a very mature, well-thought-out story. The beginning is unsettling in the extreme: a man is creeping through a family’s house, killing everyone who lives there. The only survivor is a toddler, who likes to get out of his crib, and somehow manages to not only get out of his crib, but down the stairs, out of the house, up a hill, and into a graveyard. That bit alone freaked me out. Not the murders, but the idea of an 18-month-old making his way out of a house and across town. Nightmares, people. This is why I have extra locks on my door. And my kid’s five, and a huge chicken. He would never escape. But in this case, the little boy’s journey saves his life. He is rescued by the folks living (sort of) in the graveyard. Specifically, a Mrs. Owens finds him, and is somehow able to hold him. The nasty murderer guy follows the baby to the graveyard, as do the ghosts (ephemeral though they may be) of his family. The ghosts hear his mother’s pleas for his life, and protect the baby. The murderer is sidetracked by a corporeal (although not necessarily alive) man who becomes the boy’s guardian.
The baby doesn’t know his name, so he becomes Nobody Owens, “Bod” for short. He grows up in the graveyard, somehow able to be touched, held, and raised by ghosts. His guardian Silas provides for his material needs, like food. Bod learns his letters from gravestones, and has lessons in fading and haunting, among other things. Through most of his life, he doesn’t meet any alive people, aside from a little girl named Scarlett. Her parents would bring her to the graveyard to play – it was also a nature preserve. That was until she and Bod went into a hill to find the oldest inhabitant of the graveyard (this being England, we’re talking pre-Roman, pre-Celt, pre-everyone). The kids didn’t see each other again for a very long time.
Anyway, I could go on and on and retell the entire story (or at least sum up, a la Inigo Montoya), but nothing I do or say could even touch the haunting and fearsome beauty of what Gaiman has written. Bod is almost too good to be true. The kid’s a paragon, but maybe that’s to be expected from someone who has been raised by ghosts.
If you haven’t read this book please do yourself a favor and get it, read it, give it to your friends, maybe strangers, maybe everyone. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t love this story, other than someone who has no imagination and no empathy.