Neil Gaiman is the premiere Neo-Goth Noir Fantasy writer, or at least, he is according to one of the questions asked of him at a reading of his new novel, The Graveyard Book at the Tivoli theatre in Downer’s Grove last Thursday. I went up to Chicago to visit with friends and attend the reading.
Gaiman is a Storyteller in the old sense, a person who lives their life by sharing stories with others, whatever medium is needed or appropriate. Gaiman has written poems, novels, short stories, films, comics, radio dramas, etc, and is one of the most beloved storytellers in the speculative fiction field.
The Graveyard Book is Gaiman’s latest story for young readers, though it is delightful enough for this 25-year old reader. A riff on Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Gaiman says the inspiration for The Graveyard Book came from the sight of his son Michael at the age of two, riding his tricycle through the headstones of a graveyard. Now, over twenty years later, we have the novel.
Gaiman’s narrative voice is effortless and breezy, moving confidently through the story and taking the time to develop memorably particular characters like Ms. Lupescu, Liza Hempstock, and of course, the hero of the tale, young Nobody Owens, called Bod. There’s elements of Lovecraft in the tale along with the influence of Kipling, fused in with Gaiman’s lifelong affinity for myth and other elements of folklore. Illustrations from Dave McKean bring moments to life, starting with the blood-stained knife on the first page of the novel, the point ending just below the words “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”
The sole survior of his family of four, the infant is taken in by the ghosts of a graveyard, and the mysterious man Silas appoints himself as the child’s guardian. He is called Nobody in a move that invokes Homer, and grows up as ghostly as a living boy can, ultimately facing challenges that test his character, his knowledge, and his loyalties.
The Graveyard book is not a grand, sprawling epic like American Gods, nor a whirlwind tour of weird like Mirrormask. But it is a strong YA story which appeals to adults, and would be a worthy addition to a family’s bookshelf. Pick it up, read and then pass along to your child, your niece or nephew, or just a friend who would appreciate an afternoon’s diversion, a short but fine journey led by an expert storyteller.