Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Graveyard Book

I picked up Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book while in the children's library the other day (all the best fiction is in the children's section, I sometimes think). Interestingly, the recommendation on the front cover is by Diana Wynne Jones, whose children's books I've been reading a good deal of recently. (Finished the fourth the other day, which means I've read all the Howl's Moving Castle series.)

Gaiman's book starts out rather nastily, with the murders of three members of a family, but then takes a twist and has the surviving toddler heading off into the local graveyard, where he's adopted by a couple of ghosts, and gets as his guardian someone who's neither alive nor a ghost...

For the first few chapters the book seems episodic, as though Gaiman was offering us a set of short stories on a theme. Gradually, however, all these episodes coalesce into a superb climax. This isn't a story for fainthearted children (though there seem to be few of those around these days): it's grim in more than one place, and some of the things that happen aren't pleasant. (Don't read it to children who are prone to nightmares.) Gaiman has never been a writer to avoid the unpleasant; it's even apparent in his adult books. (Stardust, perhaps the least grim of his adult stories, still has some exceptionally nasty characters).

Gaiman is a wonderfully imaginative writer, stylish in his use of language (he expects children to keep up, and only in one place explains something for the uninitiated) and is able to create worlds that extend the mind. This is a thoroughly enjoyable read, with splashes of humour to leaven the nasty bits.
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