Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book (2008) Readalong Part I

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.

39 thoughts on “Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book (2008) Readalong Part I

  1. Caroline, This is going to sound totally off the wall, but the rundown you give of the plot of this book reminds me really a lot of some weird, clever unearthly cartoon I saw on the Internet about a month ago about a little girl whose parents turned to vampires who lived in the basement of their house after a horrible parental fight, and the little girl lived with them. They fought off and killed housebreakers and etc. and protected the little girl. Finally, the mother did or said something to the little girl and she became a vampire with them. It was really clever. I wish I could remember what it was called and where I saw it. Probably it was a borrowing from Gaiman, since his book came out in 2008. What do you think?

    • It sounds a lot like it was borrowed from him if it wasn’t by him. His other book Coraline has similarities to and he started as a comic writer. He’s pretty great, just one the most creative people I know. I love how he always writes where he got his ideas.

  2. I saw this and thought ‘ah, scary month read.’ I didn’t sign up as I am overwhelmed for October and want to join in for German Lit month. I have a dvd series Neverwhere based on Gaiman’s book but haven’t got to it yet.

    • Now that’s interesting, I was wondering if there were other movies based on Gaiman’s work besides Coraline and Stardust. I’m going to hunt this right away.

  3. This sounds both charming as well as dark. As you mention, based upon the plot description it is a matter of course that the killer will reappear. I would think that how the author handles it will really be key as to your final assessment of the book.

    • Gaiman is never really disappointing, he just has something which I like every time I read one his novels or stories. But to start with a brutal murder and then remove the killer was good idea. The readalong has three parts, so it will take a while until we get to the final assessment.

  4. I’m glad you are enjoying this book! It is one of my favorites. That first line about the really sharp knife – I understood it but I didn’t get it until my man got me a ceramic kitchen knife. Now I know what it means to accidentally nick a finger and not know it immediately – it cuts so sharp and fine that the nerves don’t instantly register the damage. Perhaps that is one of Jack’s secrets – to carry a ceramic blade?

    • I like it a great deal. I’ve cut mself on a similarly sharp knife once and this meant something right away. It was a kitchen knife though, but a very small one. In any case it’s a great beginning to the story.

  5. I also love knowing the man Jack is still out there, and eventually will intersect with Bod again. The mystery of it, and the tension of waiting for that to eventually happen, ties the novel together in a nice way. It gives us a more arching plot to connect the episodic short stories. Gaiman is terribly clever about that sort of thing, isn’t he? 🙂

    • That’s what I meant the plot isn’t all that special, it’s rather episodic so far but with the man Jack in the background it’s a whole other story. Gaiman really is clever.

  6. I haven’t had time to write my post yet. I hope to get to that later today. I loved the start of this book. Jack is creepy and I don’t know his agenda. And I want to know (and yet I don’t want to know) if he’ll return.

    • Thanks, Melinda. Neverwhere was my first Gaiman and I liked it a lot. Maybe that’s why it is my favourite as well but I read him slowly. I always ant to keep at least the one or the other of his books.
      I really want to know why the man Jack killed Bod’s family.

  7. Ordinarily, this genre doesn’t appeal to me, but you’ve changed my mind on this one, Caroline. I love lyrical prose. Have you read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy? Dark tale, but so beautifully written.

    • That was a book I loved a lot, yes.
      I think Gaiman writes incredibly well and I think he appeals to far more people than just those who read fantasy. It can be read many ways but there’s definitely something of the old fashioned story telling, someone telling atale, after dark, in front of the fre place and everyone listening quietly. That kind.

  8. This looks like a wonderful book, Caroline! Enjoyed reading your post. Interesting to know that it is inspired by Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’. Love ‘The Jungle Book’, especially the panther Bagheera. Can’t wait to find out what happened next in ‘The Graveyard Book’.

  9. Yahoo, Caroline! I’m not as old and senile as I thought I was! Today I remembered where and when (with a little help from research) I saw the little cartoon that reminded me so much of the story you described as “The Graveyard Book.” It’s on a website called “First We Read, Then We Write” at http://deborahrosereeves.wordpress.com/ . It’s in her Archives for September 2 in a post she entitled “A Scare Before Bedtime.” The whole cartoon is very short. It’s called “The Mockingbird Song: A Bedtime Story.” You can view it on her site. I hope you will enjoy it if you have the time to see it; the only thing that bothers me is the possibility that someone actually lifted the inspiration from Gaiman, though with so many scary stories around these days, maybe it’s just a case of intertextuality.

  10. I’m ‘listening along’ so I probably won’t write about the book–or maybe will wait until the end. I have a hard time writing about what I’m reading unless I can have the book in hand–weird as that sounds, but I need to see the names written out and be able to flip back and forth to make sure I have details right–which I can’t do with a digital audio file! 🙂 That said I am also enjoying the story immensely. Gaiman is the reader and he is an excellent reader–the voices are totally differentiated and it’s quite entertaining to listen to!

    • I can imagine that that must be a great version. I’ve heard him read something else, just an introduction to a book and loved the way he reads. He has an ear for language and creates tension very well.

  11. I had thought at first that Jack was a reference to Jack the Ripper, and didn’t realize otherwise until airplanes are mentioned in the next chapter. He’s an ominous presence, and I wonder whether he’ll turn up later in the story to try to finish what he had started.

    • I belive he will. I can’t imagine Gaiman will let that opportunity pass.
      I hadn’t thought of Jack the Ripper but that does still make sense. He is ominous and dangerous.

  12. Definitely one to watch out for! I have no problem with turning the pages of something like this from time to time. Heck, so many writers forget that the important thing is to get a great story going. It will write itself if the story is good enough.

    • In Gaiman’s case you can really say he is a born story teller and, as Danielle just said, he even proves that when he reads his books himself and does it very well.
      I also enjoy the decoding that is possible. His influences range from the classics to fairy tales, mythology.

  13. Ah, I wondered what this reminded me of and of course, it’s Coraline. Which I saw in its film version and loved. I really must pick up a Neil Gaiman book – I’ve been saying I’ll do this for years now (regularly at RIP time!) and I really must come good on it. I’d very much like to read him – just other books get in the way.

    • You will not regret it, I’m pretty sure. His imagination is so wonderful. I haven’t read Coraline yet, not even watched the movie. Two things I would like to do.

  14. I’m not fond of reading anything related to ghosts or graveyards but your review convinced me to add this to my TBR. Thanks Caroline and hope you enjoy rest of the book!

    • It’s not the usual ghost story and the graveyard is quite different too. It’s populated by all sorts of quirky characters. I hope you will like it should you try it.

  15. I have read the review earlier in TBM’s blog…but I read it again because you two has diffrent writing style.

    The idea of a couple ghosts adopting human baby is quite unusual and that past is the one that makes me curious…I would love to read it too.

    great review, as always,Caroline 🙂

    • Thanks, Novia. The man Jack is a great charcater. We see only a glimpse of him but what we see makes you look forward to find out more. Gaiman’s books are always fun. I hope you will read him some day. i think you might enjoy it.

  16. Pingback: Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book (2008) Readalong Part II « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  17. Pingback: Back to Back Neil Gaiman : Stardust and Coraline | Polychrome Interest

  18. Pingback: Book Review – The Graveyard Book (the graphic novel) by Neil Gaiman and P.Craig Russell | Vishy's Blog

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