Sunday, April 24, 2011

Living with the Dead: A Review of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book

A few days ago, I posted my thoughts on this book after having read the first few chapters. Today's post is the conclusion of that review.

Synopsis: Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy--an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack--who has already killed Bod's family.

My Review: It took me about a week to read this book. Rarely has it ever taken me so long to finish so slim a volume. In fact, I've read 800 page books in just a few days. At a little over 300 pages, The Graveyard Book should not have taken me a week.

The issue was, as I said the other day, that it took me far too long to get into this book. As a series of short stories that are compiled into novel format, I would just get into the narrative and then the chapter would end and a new story would begin and the process would start all over again. It also took me a while to warm up to Bod, the living boy who resides in the graveyard. I felt that he was a sort of bland character and that there were others in the book--the vampire, Silas, especially--who were far more interesting. I finally got behind Bod during the second half of the book...which is also when I was finally able to settle in and enjoy the novel.

My biggest issue with the book is that it didn't focus enough on the man Jack and his reasons for wanting to kill Bod. There were hints here and there throughout the book that something bigger was going on, but when the resolution of the novel's back story was finally revealed at the end, it felt kind of forced and tacked on. The book, instead, focused on Bod growing up and learning lessons through his various adventures. It was almost like I was reading a series of morality tales.

Gaiman is, of course, an excellent writer and this shows throughout the novel. I was able to visualize everything--the Graveyard, the town, the people. It was like I was watching a vivid movie in my head and it was wonderful. It's not often that I can see things so clearly, but Gaiman is an author that has never failed to create such in-depth worlds. Even if I wasn't always engaged in the story, I felt like I was there, actually watching what was going on.

The book ends on an almost bipolar note--it's happy and sad at the same time. I actually got kind of teary-eyed during the last chapter, something that I won't often admit to. Gaiman has said that he might be writing a sequel to the novel and I could see it being quite good. I came to like Bod as the book progressed and I'd be interested in seeing what happens to him in the future. I do have to say this, however: if Mr. Gaiman is reading this, might I suggest a lot more Silas in the next novel?

Altogether, the book was fairly decent. It wasn't as good as I've come to expect from Neil Gaiman, but the ending of the novel was far more well-paced than the beginning and I ended up reading the last 100 pages in about an hour or so (compared to the four days it took me to read the first half of the book). If the book had been a little longer, I think that more could have been done with Bod finding out about his past but I'm not going to complain too much.

It pains me to say this, but I'm giving The Graveyard Book 3.5 out of 5 stars. I think that's the lowest you'll ever see me rating a Gaiman book, although I have a few more waiting to be read and reviewed, so we'll see. If this had been a more cohesive novel, I think I would have rated it much higher. Short stories are short stories; novels are novels. Blending the two together just didn't do it for me.

As you can see by my "On Deck" list, I've given up on the theme for this month. I still haven't made a final decision yet regarding the monthly themes, but there are still a few days left to vote, so if you feel strongly one way or another, let your voice be heard.

I'm about halfway through my current read, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznic (who, yes, is related to David O. Selznic of Gone with the Wind fame), which is a delightful read that practically threw itself at me the other day. I'm hoping to have a review of that up by Monday morning, but it'll depend on whether or not I finish it today.



  1. well, at least you ended up liking it with reservations. I don't remember having any issues with the book-- probably my least favorite Gaiman is Ananzi Boys-- but even a least fave is still good if it's a Gaiman.

    Didn't know there might be a sequel, cool! Wish there would be a sequel to Neverwhere...

  2. A sequel to Neverwhere is definitely called for. I've been thinking of rereading that book actually. I've only read it once and it was a really long time ago.

    It's funny because I loved Anansi Boys. I've always loved the Anansi stories and I loved his character in American Gods.

  3. I just recently saw this book in Barnes and Noble and was going to pick it up, but then I saw Perelandra and had to get that. And then I saw the most beautiful sketch I got that....and then I saw blank sheet music (which I had been looking for) so I got that. So I'm broke now. :]

    Sorry. One of these days I'm going to pick up one of the books that you recommend, because you usually have good reasons for liking them. But for some reason I'm always "overtaken" or "overcome" with like this spirit of I-must-buy-this-book-or-that-book and I'm not even finished reading the five I'm on. It's pathetic really :]

  4. I know how you feel. I have so many books on my shelves right now that I haven't read. It's why I'm trying to force myself to not buy books and to read the ones that I have. Sadly, my working in a library just means that I have alternate ways to find books that aren't mine. :)