Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book
… In which we explore an award-winning book by Neil Gaiman which explains everything that happens to you after death, sort of, in a wise yet humorous way, very much so, and which straddles the worlds of adult and child in a way that Pratchett is famous for, and the worlds of living and dead in a way that Gaiman is famous for. The Graveyard Book. The creaking cemetary gate is ajar. Wipe your feet, then come in.
Neil Gaiman’s latest novel ‘The Graveyard Book’ is a wonderful gift. It’s won at least one award for being so giftly, and it’s also illustrated by Dave McKean which is a bit of a beautifully-wrapped present in itself (everyone who’s checked out Gaiman’s work in comics and film Mirrormask will know that the Gaiman/McKean tag team has been around for a very, very long time).
But – it’s just a book. How could a book be such a wonderful, giftly gift? It’s rather cheap, unlike a Sony PSP. The hardback version only just squeezes into your handbag, unlike a Sony PSP. But this particular book, the Graveyard Book, creates a world that’s real. What’s more (and this is a talent of all the better writers) it creates a world so real and effortlessly imaginative that you’re really rather surprised no-one has ever thought of it before.
A dangerous fellow called Man Jack kills an entire family save one little baby, which is rescued by a pack of ghosts inhabiting the graves of a run-down cemetery. Mr and Mrs Owen (deceased) name the baby Nobody ‘Bod’ Owens and resolve to raise him as their own, giving him the Freedom of the Graveyard so that he has some of the skills of a dead person (Fading, Fear, Dreamwalking, Seeing Really Rather Well in Dark Places, Not Getting Very Cold Even If It’s Chilly) but is still a living, breathing, feeling little boy.
In its own way, growing up as the only living boy in a graveyard full of well-meaning but conservative ghosts is a charming and romantic scenario. But once murderous assassin Man Jack is hot on the trail, Bod’s mind soon turns from tedious ghost-taught lessons in calling for help in all known and most forgotten languages onto more pressing matters: One, how long can you remain alive, even though it shouldn’t particularly matter because your family and best friends are dead. Two, how can you get revenge?
The Graveyard Book fleshes out ghosts, explains the true and rather surprising nature of ghouls, paints a vivid and picturesque picture of what it’s like to be dead, explains what happens to witches when they pass away, why werewolves have always been the good guys, just why cemetaries are so wonderful and why you’d quite like to grow up in one and it explains, oh – all sorts of things, really…
The Graveyard Book is an odd thing, very easy to try and very hard to get right – it’s a Fusion Book. That means it’s (apparently) written for children, but it’s (actually) written just as much for grown-ups. There aren’t many writers whose books fall so naturally into this magical in-between world. JRR Tolkein was one of the first and best. Pratchett could do it with his eyes closed. Bless her, even JK Rowling could hold her own.
People who loved Stardust (Gaiman’s book and film), and people who loved Good Omens (Gaiman’s collaboration with Pratchett) will be sure to enjoy The Graveyard Book (which, clever thing that it is, has made itself available in both adulty-looking and child-looking covers, if you care much about that sort of thing).
Let’s face it, there are disappointingly few bridges spanning that vast canyon between Child and Adult. It’s true that they shimmer invitingly in the sun – but they’re very slender, and dauntingly few and far between.
And yet… Standing on those bridges and looking out over the canyon is the very best place to be. With all of an adult’s wit, craft, understanding and skill to the left of you, and all of the magic, humour and playfulness of the child to your right. It’s not teenage or kidult land, that canyon – it’s More-In-Between-Land, the land of dusk, dawn and twilight.
If you’re drawn to those bridges, why not let yourself stand there for awhile, the next time you’re passing? And if you stop for a moment on one of those vast shimmering bridges and feel soft pages flutter from above to brush against your cheek, reach out and grasp one before it falls to the depths below – it might well be a few pencilled lines from The Graveyard Book.
And one of the pages fluttered down:
There was a witch buried at the edge of the graveyard, it was common knowledge. Bod had been told to keep away from that corner of the world by Mrs Owens as far back as he could remember.
“Why?” he asked.
“‘Tain’t healthy for a living body,” said Mrs Owens. “There’s damp down that end of things. It’s practically a marsh. You’ll catch your death.”
Mr Owens himself was more evasive and less imaginative. “It’s not a good place,” was all he said.
Neil Gaiman writes things
Dave McKean draws things