Friday, April 22, 2011

My Thoughts So Far: The Graveyard Book

I have a confession to make: I'm having a really hard time getting into The Graveyard Book. I feel like such a bad Neil Gaiman fanboy. It's not that it's a bad book. It isn't. But for some reason it's not jiving with me like his other novels have.

I've been reading Gaiman for over five years now. I read him, I reread him, I force others to read him. If Neil Gaiman were a religion, I'd probably be a bishop or something. I love his characters, the worlds that he builds, the way he writes. He's darkly funny and funnily dark. He's in my top ten favorite writers of all time for gods' sakes. And yet...I just can't seem to read this book.

I was really looking forward to it, too. And I'll finish it. I really will. But I've been taking it in really small bites, which is screwing up my reading schedule for the second week in a row. I've gotten through the first three chapters and am working my way through the fourth. Because I still have quite a ways to go, I thought I'd give a review of what I've read so far.

The Graveyard Book starts off with murder--a good start for any book. A man with a knife has killed almost an entire family and is about to finish off the last member: a baby. The only problem is, he can't find it. The baby, who is walking and climbing by this point, has gotten out of his crib and has walked out the front door. The baby decides to walk right up to the top of the hill near his the graveyard. The man follows him there but is persuaded to leave by one of the graveyard's inhabitants. The baby is adopted by a couple of ghosts and is given the Freedom of the Graveyard; the vampire, Silas, is made his guardian. And so the book begins.

The next few chapters show the boy, called Bod (short for Nobody), at a different age and tells the story of one event in his life in the graveyard. He is not allowed to leave because the graveyard grants him protection from the man with the knife who will surely kill him if he leaves. Therefore, his friends and family are the graveyard's inhabitants and all of the major events in his life happen there.

Okay, so much for plot. Here comes the review:

I'm not really sure that I like the way the book is set up. The idea behind it is great. I love graveyards and ghosts and I think the idea of a living boy being raised by the dead is actually really genius. But the chapters are almost like short stories, which is a genre that I've had problems with in the past. I was kind of hoping that the book would have some sort of story line (and it may have in later chapters that I haven't gotten to yet) so the long snapshots that Gaiman gives each chapter has been sort of off-putting.

Gaiman, for me, is all about well-plotted novels that are darkly adventurous. Characters are well-established early on (with just enough left out to make them intriguing) and they go through his novels on a path that shows some sort of direction. So far, this hasn't been the case. I haven't read Coraline, his other children's novel, so I don't know if the same is true for that book. I guess I'm just used to his adult novels which, while vastly different from one another, follow relatively the same rule: they grab you on the first page, hang onto you by your throat, and don't let go few a few hundred pages.

I don't mean that his novels are mile-a-minute cheap thrill rides. I just mean that the stories themselves are so good that you don't want to put them down. You're hooked right from the first word and you feel loath to close the book after the last word. The Graveyard Book has yet to hook me.

In fact, I'm not even sure that I really like Bod. He's just a kid in a graveyard. He doesn't even remember his family so there isn't any emotional back story. Unlike Shadow in American Gods, Richard in Neverwhere, and Tristan in Stardust, Bod doesn't find anything about his world odd. Sure, he likes to go exploring and he has questions about almost everything, but Shadow, Richard, and Tristan were sort of dumped into a situation that they had to figure out along the way. Bod is just kind of coasting through so far and he complains for most of it. I like stories where people discover the world around them (and themselves in the process) as the book progresses. Gaiman does this especially well and, while I'm not saying that every novel he writes should be exactly alike, I think that's something that the character of Bod is missing. There are some characters that I like--Silas, for one and Caius, for another--but they are used very seldomly and so far they haven't played a huge role in the story.

Gaiman's writing is superb as always but the dialogue drags on occasion. Part of this is his use of really old terminology, which I actually think is rather genius. Most of the characters are ghosts that haven't left the graveyard in hundreds of years. They should be talking in outdated English and Gaiman does this very well. It does, however, make the dialogue a little...much sometimes.

As I'm not even halfway through the book, I have hopes that things will pick up soon and that I'll come to love this novel. The only Gaiman novel that I was truly disappointed with was Stardust but that was because the movie was so bloody brilliant and the ending of the novel (which is very different from the ending of the film) was so lackluster. I'd hate to add a second book to the very short list of Gaiman Novels I'd Probably Never Reread.

I should have a full review up by Saturday.



  1. Hi Gabriel,
    I'm so glad you wrote this post! I'm as big a Neil Gaiman fan as can be, but I too had the hardest time getting into "The Graveyard Book." I tried reading and re-reading the beginning and listening to it on audio but it just didn't suck me in. :-S LOL P.s. love your line about how you'd be a bishop in the Neil Gaiman religion if it existed ;-) Hopefully you'll finish the book soon and let us know the rest of your thoughts, but I agree on the characterization as well. Couldn't get into Bod either :-S

  2. I don't think you can expect the same from a children's book as one aimed at adults. I always put my kids book hat on before starting one. I had a conversation with a friend recently about Pratchett's Tiffany Aching novels and we came to the conclusion that he didn't enjoy them as much because he was expecting adult Discworld. He's going to read them again seeing them as kids books. Though Tiffany's all grown up now so maybe she'll appear in an adult one!

  3. Such a shame you aren't enjoying it. I didn't get into it the first time I tried either. I put it down for a year and when I went back to it again I persevered with it and found I loved it. I liked the short story aspect but that might be because I have recently grown to appreciate them (was never a fan before either). They do all link up though and there are some more fantastic characters ahead.

    Please don't judge Coraline by this. It's written as a straight story. Was the first Gaiman I read so maybe that's why this has a special place for me. Did give me nightmares though.

  4. Darkeva: I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. I'd heard such great things about it and it won a prize and everything. I'm hoping it picks up. I guess it's mostly just the fact that the chapters are written like short stories instead of being strung together in any real sort of narrative.

    Ellie: I agree wholeheartedly, but I still think that the main character should be likable. :)

  5. Karen: I'm excited to finish the novel because I have a feeling that it gets better. It's just the getting there that I have to get through first. It's also been a pretty rough week so maybe now that it's over I'll be able to get into it. I really liked the chapter with the ghoulsgate (I think it's chapter 3). But the first chapter dragged a little and the fourth chapter just hasn't drawn me in yet. We'll see how it goes. I'm not giving up yet.

    I would never judge one book by another. I'd love to read Coraline as well someday, I'm just trying not to buy any more books for a while.

  6. I always judge one book by another.