Moira Russell's Reviews > The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
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Jul 14, 2009

bookshelves: 2009-50-new-books-challenge
Read in July, 2009

This is a very charming, entertaining well-written little book that I greatly enjoyed reading, and I can see why everyone's raving about it (and why it's winning every YA award out there), but I was left with some niggling naggling feelings after finishing it. Some of those feeling started to crop up while I was reading it, which sort of spoilt my enjoyment, but I guess that's nobody's fault but my own.

One of the problems I had with the book was that I felt it got off to an exceptionally slow start. If I'd picked it up in a store without knowing Gaiman had written it and decided whether to buy it or not based on the first 10-20 pages alone, I probably wouldn't have. The book really doesn't pick up until the introduction of Miss Lupescu (whom I loved) and the ghouls (whom I loved in a different way -- some of the best wit in the book is Gaiman's dry descriptions of how disgusting they are) and doesn't start to sing until the chapter devoted to the witch, Liza, who lights up every page she's on (apparently Gaiman wrote that part of the book first, and it shows -- it's far more engaging and vivid than the first couple of chapters). As usual with Gaiman's novels, the action consists more of fantastic set pieces than connected and building sequences, although he does rather neatly go back and use apparently one-off events in tying up plot ends near the very end of the novel in a way which reminded me of J.K. Rowling (who didn't invent that technique, even if everyone screams about it as if she did).

I remain pretty amazed none of the reviews (that I've seen, anyway) draw attention to the very strong parallels between this and Peter S. Beagle's neglected classic, A Fine and Private Place (and one of my favourite books since I read it when I was about thirteen -- Beagle is a bit more well-known now than he was then, but he's still a terribly neglected author). Nob is kind of a combination of Beagle's two heroes in that book, Michael and Rebeck, and the twin themes of love blossoming in a place of death and the living hero's need to (eventually) leave his cemetery refuge drive both books.

As always, I found the minor characters far more well-drawn and interesting than the hero, who, like Richard in Neverwhere and Shadow in American Gods, struck me as rather a lump. What did Mr and Mrs Owens think of raising a living boy? What did Liza do when she wasn't talking to Nob? And Silas! There could have been a whole other book -- a thick one -- written about Silas, which was just how I felt about the Marquis in Neverwhere. It is not a good thing when your supposedly secondary characters keep being far more magnetic than your heroes.

And 'heroes' is the right word -- the focus is all on Nob, and even the vibrant Liza and the majestic Miss Lupescu serve mainly as means to his end of revenge. Beagle's book doesn't just focus on Rebeck and Michael, but on Mrs Klapper and Laura, who are more than their counterparts; we see them when Rebeck and Michael aren't around, and they do and feel things which aren't just caused by the men in their lives. I was unhappy at what happened to Miss Lupescu (and it's not even shown to the reader), but my annoyance at the way Gaiman treats his female characters came to a boil over Scarlett, Nob's childhood friend. It's not just that she's unthinking and gullible -- she is, after all, a child -- but she's just used, first by Jack, then by Nob, and finally by her male author, as nothing more than a Symbol of the real world Nob is, after all, still a part of. She never comes to life on her own. Likewise, when Nob isn't interested in Liza for a while, she simply disappears from the book (literally). We don't know much more about Mrs Owens than that she's Nob's mother. Scarlett's mother is the same. And so on. (I couldn't help wondering what kind of book it might have been if Jack or Nob -- or both! -- had been female.)

But for all that, the book is genuinely entertaining and deeply moving. The plot is very satisfyingly resolved (although for a while I couldn't decide whether Gaiman had been tripped up by the self-fulfilling prophecy trick, old as Oedipus, or slyly made fun of it while he was making use of it at the same time -- I decided on the latter). I'm not as big a fan of his sentence-level writing as everyone else seems to be -- I find it slightly overdone -- but his descriptions are, as ever, very evocative while sketched out in very few words (something chatterboxes like me can only envy), and the citizens of the cemetery leap off the page whenever we meet one, even if it's only for a few paragraphs.

Truly the biggest criticism I had is that the book felt far too short -- and that I longed for a sequel -- and when I came to the end I wanted to immediately start reading it all over again.

Addendum And may I just say, I had that Dorothy-wants-to-go-back-to-Kansas-WTF moment when Nob declared to learn about people he wants to leave his enchanted graveyard and go....TO SCHOOL. Gaiman must have had a very different experience of school than I did (I'm a dropout and autodidact). A US public school is the last place you would learn any fucking thing, except maybe the depths of human nature (although Nob winds up learning about that too). And we never do see Nob in a library. Libraries are the places to go if you want to simultaneously learn and blend in!
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Quotes Moira Liked

Neil Gaiman
“Name the different kinds of people,’ said Miss Lupescu. ‘Now.’

Bod thought for a moment. ‘The living,’ he said. ‘Er. The dead.’ He stopped. Then, ‘... Cats?’ he offered, uncertainly.”
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman
“You're alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you're dead, it's gone. Over. You've made what you've made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.”
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman
“Truly, life is wasted on the living, Nobody Owens. For one of us is too foolish to live, and it is not I.”
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman
“If you want to call it that. But it is a very specific sort of magic. There's a magic you take from death. Something leaves the world, something else comes into it.”
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman
“You're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.”
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Reading Progress

07/14/2009 page 50
16.03% "Opened this to try to distract myself from miseries of life. So far, it's not really working very well."
07/14/2009 page 71
22.76% "Okay, Miss Lupescu is AWESOME."
07/14/2009 page 80
25.64% "Man, I don't think I've heard anyone mention Beagle's Fine and Private Place in reviews....which is bizarre. (Not even Gaiman.)"
07/14/2009 page 85
27.24% "And the ghouls are awesome-er! Now I'm really enjoying the book."
07/14/2009 page 92
07/14/2009 page 104
33.33% "I do love how everyone gets their epitaphs in parentheses when they're named in the text. Very start-of-Great-Expectations-like."
07/14/2009 page 110
35.26% "Liza is now my FAVOURITE, after Miss Lupescu and Silas. Bod is....OK. Rather like Richard in Neverwhere."
07/14/2009 page 113
36.22% "AWW BOD. Liza is his favourite too."
07/14/2009 page 115
36.86% "OMFG NO BOD DON'T DO THAT....oh you -idiot.- Love makes you do the stupid, I suppose."
07/14/2009 page 144
46.15% "The illustrations in this are a little overwhelming."
07/14/2009 page 170
54.49% "The Jack bits of this are surprisingly disappointing."
07/14/2009 page 234
75.0% "Nehemiah Trot is ADORABLE. Why are the minor characters always better in a Gaiman?"
07/14/2009 page 242
77.56% "I don't trust Mr Frost. Not at all."
07/14/2009 page 266
85.26% "Nehemiah is still ADORABLE."
07/14/2009 page 268
85.9% "The ghoul-gate! Oh, well-plotted. Nicely done."
07/14/2009 page 272
07/14/2009 page 277
88.78% "Boo, Scarlett is a Woman-in-Jep."
07/14/2009 page 290
92.95% "Aww, Bod eating pizza."
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited May 27, 2010 01:28PM) (new)

I get Bod wanting to go to school. Although I am also a dropout, I have cousins who were home-schooled & they're all terrible people. (No, j/k, sort of.) At one point though, one of my cousins demanded to go to public school. Even though school was kind of shitty, he was being filled with entirely different sand that he was being filled with at home. (My aunt and uncle aren't religious fanatics, just ideological fanatics, which is roughly the same thing, in the context of harshly restrictive & self-satisfied childhood environments.)

message 2: by Moira (new) - added it


....I can get a kid wanting to go to school for services they're not getting at home (hot lunch, music lessons) or non-fanatic environments or social engagement and so on, but the graveyard just seems, well, such a neat magical place it's hard to imagine why he would want to go at all. Other than 'you must eventually go out into the world' which is where a lot of these fairy stories fall down for me. Oz > Kansas!

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Oz > Kansas!

Oh, true enough, and that's a problem w/Wizard - why ever go home? Get worked to death, have some babies, put up with drudgery. Bah! (I'm also a college drop-out, not a high school one, just to clarify. My high school was alright; they did a tolerable job of keeping me non-feral.)

message 4: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell YEAH, and that's something I've seen addressed in almost no, I might even say not any, fantasy books. (Narnia's 'solution,' to die in the real world, squicks me right out.)

I dropped out of prep school, boarding school, undergrad college (finished somewhere else) and a grad program (ditto). GO MOI.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Moira wrote: "YEAH, and that's something I've seen addressed in almost no, I might even say not any, fantasy books. (Narnia's 'solution,' to die in the real world, squicks me right out.)

I dropped out of prep s..."


message 6: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ceridwen wrote: "OH OH PAN'S LABYRINTH."


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)


message 8: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ceridwen wrote: "GO NOW AND SEE."


Miriam why ever go home? Oz > Kansas

I think you may be overly influenced by the filmic interpretation. She wants to go home because she loves her aunt and uncle, and eventually the whole family ends up in Oz.

Taryn I agree completely with you about the female characters, especially Scarlett. I actually found her presence in the book to be unnecessary. I haven't read any off the other books you mentioned but I think I'll try them out, you make them sound interesting.

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