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.
From the very first lines we are drawn into the story of the little boy Nobody Owens and the man Jack who kills his whole family at the beginning of Gaiman’s novel The Graveyard Book. We don’t know why the man Jack kills the little boy’s family, all we know is that he isn’t happy he didn’t get the little boy as well. While he was killing Nobody’s parents and brother, the baby escapes through the door, down a hill and into the graveyard.
Mrs and Mr Owens see the little boy and Mrs Owens, although she is a ghost, feels an intense, until now unfulfilled longing and wants to keep the baby for herself. At first there is debate. The other ghosts are not sure it is a good idea. How will she feed him? How will she take care of him? But when the man Jack arrives at the graveyard door and they become aware the baby is in great danger, they agree to protect him and keep him in the graveyard. Luckily Silas, who isn’t really a ghost but no real human either, can move between their and our world and is capable to provide food for the little boy.
In the subsequent chapters the boy who the ghosts have baptised Nobody Owens is introduced to the ways of the living and the dead. He learns to read and write, is taught history and other things, makes friends with a little girl, is abducted by ghouls.
The story as such, which is inspired by Kipling’s The Jungle Book, is not that special but the way it is told is fantastic. More than a writer Gaiman is a story-teller. He is a very musical writer with an ear for language and it’s not surprising his books work well as audio books. The sentences have a hypnotic quality, they draw you in, captivate you by their sound and their meaning alike.
What I thought was particularly great is that we know the man Jack will turn up again. We know his story isn’t over. And we don’t want it to be over. We want to find out why he killed Nobody’s family and what he will do to access the graveyard. The inhabitants of the cemetery may not be corporeal but they still have power. They were able to protect Nobody once, will they be capable to do it again?
I can’t tell you how much I like this novel. It’s wonderful, it feels as if Gaiman when he writes is connected to the very source of story telling itself. In an introduction to a short story collection Gaiman wrote that he thinks the only proof a story is well written is when the readers ask the question “What happened next?”. Gaiman certainly achieved this and much more.
I’ve bought The Graveyard Book a couple of years ago but never read it. I’m so glad it is part of this year’s R.I.P. hosted by Carl. 38 people have signed up to read along. If you want to read what other’s thought of the first 3 chapters, don’t miss visiting Carl’s blog for the other reviews.