Friday 2 November 2012

The Graveyard Book

Australians don't tend to celebrate Halloween, and old Scrooge me likes it that way. It isn't our holiday. We don't need it. Supermarkets are trying to flog more Halloween themed stuff each year. We've even had people knock on our front door occasionally over the past few years in an attempt at trick or treating. It can't be much fun to go trick or treating where noone wants you to come, or is prepared for you to come. Although last year I did enjoy a glimpse of pre-Halloween in Texas. Despite my grumblings Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book was a perfect read for the Halloween season.

I haven't read all that much Neil Gaiman as yet. Coraline. Wolves in the Walls. Both excellent and intriguing. But I'm becoming increasingly aware of him. His output is rather vast, and in a broad range of disciplines. The Graveyard Book is one of his more recent works, published in 2008, and sweeping awards the world over in 2009 and 2010, most famously winning both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. 

The Graveyard Book has perhaps the most captivating, spine chilling opening of any book I've ever read. Big Call. I know. 

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
 The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet. 
The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of night-time mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door. 
The man Jack paused on the landing. With his left hand he pulled a large white handkerchief from the pocket of his black coat, and with it he wiped off the knife and his gloved right hand which had been holding it; then he put the handkerchief away. The hunt was almost over. He had left the woman in her bed, the man on the bedroom floor, the older child in her brightly coloured bedroom, surrounded by toys and half-finished models. That only left the little one, a baby barely a toddler, to take care of. One more and his task would be done.

Wow. I dare you to stop reading. You can't. You're immediately drawn into this world. Why would the man Jack want this family dead? What happens to the toddler? The toddler survives of course, to become that childrens book hero of old, the orphan. He is taken in and protected by the ghosts and spirits of the local graveyard, in a modern, macabre riff on the famous it takes a village to raise a child, here it takes a graveyard to raise a child. 

"I love what the first three pages of The Graveyard Book do to people's heads," said Gaiman. "I love reading the upset reviews from people who read those first few pages and say, 'Oh my God, it's like a slasher movie with all the murders and blood' and I think, 'No, you did that. I just had a man walking round with a knife and you killed all those people in your head. It says more about you than anything I wrote on the page.'"

Neil Gaiman has said that The Graveyard Book was the book that took him longest to write. 25 years ago he noticed how comfortable his young son was riding his bike around a local graveyard. Rather incredibly, he had the idea then, wrote a page, but realised that it was a much better book than he was a writer. He put his idea aside for 20 years, while he became that better writer, and then he wrote it (starting at Chapter 4). I'm very glad that he did. 

The Graveyard Book is a wonderful read, dark, funny and wise. Full of wonderful words like flibbertigibbet and ululation. I'm planning to use this as the next read aloud book with my son. So he gets to hear it, and I get to read it again. 

The French cover

Writing this post, brought to mind my tally of the Top 100 Children's Novels List. I've made some progress, but am still only at 34/100.



MedicatedMoo said...

Sounds like another book recommendation of yours that I'll have to add to the 'must read' list!

Swan Pond said...

Sounds good Louise. I've read Coraline and also Neverwhere, which is a great story about London's underworld as only Gaiman could imagine it.


Louise said...

It's a great read Kath. I'm starting the read out loud tonight!

Megan- I just did a quick look at Neverwhere, and it sounds intriguing. Although the book is the novelisation! There's few people I'd trust to do a good novelisation, but I'd be willing to let Gaiman have a go. I'm going to London next year, and hoping to do some London themed reading, maybe this would be good to add to the list?

skiourophile said...

I thought this was such a good read - and that opening is *chilling*.

Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) said...

I listened to the audiobook and it is fantastic. Neil himself does the narrating and I can't imagine anyone else doing the reading now.