The best place to read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is, of course, a graveyard.
The first line is chilling: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” Nobody Owens is a boy who unwittingly escapes death by wandering into a graveyard. Its inhabitants take him in, a 17th century couple adopts him as his parents, a member of the Honour Guard becomes his guardian, and among the souls from the centuries he finds teachers and friends. Each chapter is a story in itself, each happening two years after the last, and in each chapter Bod learns a little bit more. This is a book about growing up. It is wonderful and painful, and clearly deserving of the Newbery and Hugo Awards (among others) that is has won the past year. Though The Graveyard Book is marketed as children’s and YA fiction, I would say that it is universal; this is a book for grown-ups, too.
In this book Gaiman truly is a storyteller. This is a book I read from cover to cover1 and enjoyed every page of it: from his signature on the front page to the acknowledgments at the end, with all the illustrations in between providing an organic, visual element that complemented the textual. I chose two sunny afternoons to sit in the cathedral cemetery, and as I leaned against the headstone for the Fain family, across from Robert Mair (d. 1885, Go home dear friends shed not a tear, For I lie here till Christ appear), I delved into a world so magical it could be real.2 After just the first afternoon, I left the cathedral with new appreciation. The mythology Gaiman creates made our graveyard more—if I may use the term—alive. Our cemetery, and our town, could easily fit the events in the story. We have a barrow, too, and someone like Silas could very well live in St Rule’s tower. Gaiman said in an interview that he wanted to create a mythology for graveyards that felt right, and he did. And though there may be some scary bits, there are funny bits and lovely bits too, and it’s best to keep in mind that “one of the themes of the book is that the dead can’t hurt you—they’re dead. Living things can hurt you, living people can hurt you, but the dead can’t.”
If you want to hear Neil Gaiman read aloud The Graveyard Book online, and for free, hop along to Mouse Circus for the video tour.
Free’d from a world of sin and grief and pain
Farewell dear friends we part to meet again
A brighter Scene unfolds Lifes conflict o’er
We sleep in Christ and wake to part no more.
(Mary Paterson, d. 1850)
1 Oh, hi. Yes, I read copyright pages.
2 You may be wondering why I waited so long to read The Graveyard Book, considering that I got it as a birthday present at the beginning of summer, and you would be right. I received fifteen (15) books for my birthday and the fact that I have made my way through five (5) of them is indication enough that I have not been idle.