The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

First of all, I must say I’ve recently discovered Neil Gaiman. Although  friends recommended  me reading his comics “Sandman” some time ago, I never got to do it. I spend so much time reading for work that my fiction and leisure reading often get pushed to the further future. However, me and my husband love going to bookshops, and in one occasion (semi-vacation), I found American Gods, which got me curious about the author. I’m glad to say I loved the book and plan to re-read it soon! Since then, I’ve read, on and off, the short-stories book “Fragile Things”, his book with Terry Pratchet “Good Omens: the nice and accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter”, and finished reading, just a few days ago, “The Graveyard Book”. I do plan to keep reading books from this author, he is funny in different ways: he can be explicitly funny, dark, or just catch you by surprise when you least expect it. His writing is compelling, and his storytelling is absolutely enticing! There is fantasy, comedy, and real messages in the middle of all the not-so-random-chaos!

But, enough about the author, I’ve decided to talk a bit about this book! I admit I was a bit surprised by this book where comedy and irony don’t come as often as in other books I’ve read. However, it is nonetheless a good read.

This is a book about Nobody Owens, a boy raised by ghosts in an old graveyard since he was a baby. Personally, I found it a book about childhood, its curiosity, it’s naïve bravery; about friendships, how they are lost and found; about growing up, facing our fears, about the loss of innocence even. I don’t want to give out the book, of course! 😉 But I will mention my favorite character, scene and message.

My favorite character is Liza Hempstock, the witch. She was buried outside the holy ground of the graveyard, and that allows her to leave the graveyard and walk around town with Nobody. I think she is an endearing character. Full of herself, but a true friend to Bod. She appears and disappears at her own whims, and although dead (and buried) she still feels much alive, giving hints of jealousy about Bod when he finds a new (alive) friend. I loved Chapter Four (The Witch’s Heastone), where Bod finds her a headstone so she and others can “know who she is”, her name. In some religions and mythologies, the name is so powerful that knowing one’s true name allows for other people to have control over one person. The fact that she doesn’t even have a name, no headstone, marks her oblivion, by herself, and by others. What Bod writes in her headstone transmits this idea, by placing only her initials (at her request) and the sentence “We never forget”.

My favorite scene comes in chapter 6 – The Macabre Dance – when ghosts are allowed to come down to town, and dance with the living! The whole description is beautiful! Ghosts in their best attires coming down from the graveyard, and dancing with the living. The sense of music in the air, the white flowers…it just kept my imagination going as I imagined that scenery!

One favorite message comes in chapter 5, as Bod talks with his guardian, Silas, about people who commit suicide.

” ‘Does it work? Are they happier dead?’ ‘Sometimes. Mostly, no. It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.’ ”

It just reminds me of the basic human condition. It reminds me of how people think they can discard their inner problems by changing place, changing hair and clothes, by taking medication. We can never run from ourselves, and we always come back to hunt ourselves! Without dealing and learning how to accept our faults, as well as our strengths, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes, and to make ourselves miserable…or happy!


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