Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is an excellent read, and if that comes as any kind of surprise then either you haven’t encountered Gaiman before, or you’ve suffered catastrophic damage to the part of your brain that processes quality.
Now, let’s clear something up straight off the bat: The Graveyard Book is not a children’s book. I’ve seen it marketed as such, but to do so is to do it a disservice, and immediately reduce its chances of reaching the audience it deserves. Is it a book about a child? Yes. Is it a book a child could read? Certainly. But is it a children’s book? Not at all. What Gaiman has done, like Philip Pullman before him, is achieve that incredible feat of straddling the child/adult divide, without falling into the ‘Young Adult’ ghetto. Gaiman tells the story of Bod, the young protagonist, with all the skill and sinister fantasy that he brings to bear in books like American Gods and Neverwhere – two more books which, incidentally, would not only be suitable for, but entertain the socks off, any child worth knowing (barring the part near the beginning of American Gods where a fragment of a long-forgotten goddess ingests a man via her vagina. You probably don’t want anyone unfamiliar with the birds and the bees reading that).
Gaiman has an incredible ability to pen modern fairy tales – to take the boring, mundane world we’re all too busy rushing around to really notice, and inject it with the raw, “what-if?” potential that leaks out sometime around the point we start growing hair in new and exciting places. I don’t mean to say, either, that Gaiman merely writes fantasy, although that’s certainly where you’d find him in any book store. What Gaiman writes is fantastic, in the sense of imagination and boundless wonder – hell, Gaiman creates with an evocative gesture and suggestive phrase worlds every bit as big and real as it takes authors like George R. R. Martin and Tolkein door-stopper volumes to build.
Open up The Graveyard Book and you’ll learn just enough about The Man Jack and his cohorts to be profoundly unsettled; just enough about the Honour Guard to know that Silas and Ms. Lupescu are much more than what they seem – and what they seem is fascinating enough on its own; just enough to wonder. And that’s the mark of a good story – it doesn’t end when you turn the last page. It lives on in your mind, it stays with you, and that’s what you get with Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Pick it up and, for a little while at least, you’ll be able to look around you and wonder… “What if?”.
Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is on sale from the 18th of June, and you really ought to be reading it.