Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book 53: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This isn't actually Book 53, I'm just a little behind on reviews (I blame Lost), and wanted to write this one up in time for the book club. Barely. As yossarian mentioned when he chose and introduced this one for the Pajiba Book Club, this novel is inspired by/ a modern version of The Jungle Book. It's been years since I've seen the Disney movie, and I believe I read part of the original book once but my recollection of both is very vague. The only thing I really remember about book version is the story of "Rikki Tikki Tavi," and for some reason I remember it as more of a series of stories than an ongoing narrative. I am probably completely wrong, though.

As a result, when I was reading this, my brain kept trying to make connections between half forgotten clips of a Disney movie and the story. My reading process was a little like this, "so the man Jack must be the tiger; oh, Silas is the panther (and possibly a vampire, maybe?); are the ghouls supposed to be the chimpanzees or monkeys or whatever King Louie was?"

The main character of this novel is Nobody "Bod" Owens, a boy that grows up in a graveyard after his parents and older sister are killed in their home. When his family is murdered, Bod manages to toddle to the neighborhood graveyard where the ghosts and Silas, friend of the graveyard and mysterious being, decide to take care of him and protect him from the man Jack who wants to finish his business. The novel is set up as a series of vignettes or snapshots of Bod's life in the graveyard beginning with how he came to be there, and showing his maturation. Some of the snapshots focus on lessons that Bod must learn but his parents' death and the threat on his life are a continuous theme. He is not allowed to leave the graveyard because that is the only place he can be protected, and his very first venture outside his home already leads to a close call.

As Bod grows older, the differences between him and the dead become more apparent. It takes quite a bit of convincing but he starts going to a real school later on in addition to his tutelage under various ghosts to prepare him for what he will need to know eventually. As Bod grows older, everything around him continues to stay the same. His friends don't age, and while Bod thinks he can stay at the graveyard forever, his dead friends and family understand the necessity of him living life. Bod learns about life from the dead, and he learns compassion and courage as well as who he really is (I liked the witch). While there is of course the threat of the man Jack, the novel is foremost a coming of age novel that happens to be set in the graveyard. Bod has to learn about himself and face perils, but he also has to learn to say goodbye and learn to face the world like most children.

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