Monday, September 29, 2008

review: The Graveyard Book

In his new children's novel, The Graveyard Book, literary rockstar Neil Gaiman gives it to us straight: sometimes death isn't fair and there's nothing you can do about it, but life can be as fair as you're willing to make it. After the loss of his living family, Nobody Owens is taken in by a nonliving one. Though the particulars of his existence are unusual, anyone who's in the process of growing up (and please note that many grown-ups still have some of that to do) will sympathize with Nobody's frustrations (studying, authority, social interactions) and joys (friendships, hard-earned skills, packets of crisps).

Graveyard seems to have been written for a slightly younger set than Gaiman's previous (and, for me, far scarier) children's novel, Coraline. Older readers, and those better-versed in the supernatural horror genre, might anticipate the twists and reveals a good while before Nobody. But even with the usual monsters and mayhem all in their usual places, right down to the Lovecraftian Thing What Lies Beneath And Speaks All In Caps, Gaiman's blind-casting of the characters and Nobody's fabulously pedestrian treatment of thoroughly extraordinary things will allow The Graveyard Book to take turns at delighting, educating, and creeping the good wits out of anyone who's willing to let it.

Look for The Graveyard Book in stores on Tuesday, September 30th in the U.S. and on Friday, October 31st in the U.K. Also look for Gaiman himself on his 10-city U.S. and 4-city U.K. book tour -- though in case you won't be able to attend in bodily form, HarperCollins will be posting free video recordings of each of his U.S. appearances, during which Gaiman will read one chapter of the book each day.

Chapter illustrations by Dave McKean are online, but were not published for review.

In summary, I liked it, and you should find some children to read it aloud with while doing all the voices.


Adam P. Knave said...

See somehow his writing it for an even younger set than Coraline worries me. Because that was good for ages all the way back to ... well ... early as hell. So unless this is Suessian, I dunno.

the grammar monkey said...

I feel like Coraline was maybe for, like, mostly 8-year olds? I feel like Graveyard is possibly for 6-year olds. It's a subtle difference, but it's there.

Note that I'm a huge proponent of all ages of people reading all sorts of things! Obviously it depends on any specific child's emotional maturity and grammatical capacity, and any adult's interest in the subject matter.

Adam P. Knave said...

Yeah no age banding or anything I was just curious about how fine a line you meant with that, so thanks.

I dunno I'm iffy on it. On the other hand I am still swooning over Anathem.

the grammar monkey said...

I still haven't finished Cryptonomicon, and I'm not allowed to start any new NS books until I get around to that.

Graveyard is cute, but doesn't have as much for adults as I think Coraline did. (I'd rank Coraline in the Top 5 Things That Scared Me So Hard That I Now Have An Aversion To A Random Inanimate Object, namely, in this case, buttons.)

It's a terrific primer on the supernatural horror genre, and has a lot of that completely charming wordplay and child characterization that Gaiman does so well. I'd say read it when you get a chance, but it's not a critical, top o' the reading list item.