So I finally got around to reading the copy of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman that I’ve had lying around.
And….wow. Just wow. I’m regretfully under-read when it comes to Neil Gaiman’s works (despite my ever soaring respect for him), and this is the second and a half novel of his I have had the pleasure of reading (Good Omens and American Gods being the other one and a half). While American Gods is certainly a well written book, it is an epic, spanning the entire United States in its breadth and it takes a lot to read it. The Graveyard Book, meant for younger readers, is noticeably shorter, more approachable, and every page is filled with suspense.
It features the story of a young Bod Owens (short for Nobody), who has grown up in a graveyard raised by ghosts. From witches and ghouls to bullies, Bod navigates difficulties both mundane and supernatural, leading to the inevitable confrontation with his family’s killer.
I think the thing I took away from this the most is Neil’s absolutely fantastic ability to create mythology. From the ghoul gate to the Hounds of God to the man Jack or the Sleer, The Graveyard Book is a vibrant world of delightfully supernatural things that feel like a part of something much bigger and older than the book itself. Especially the ghoul gate, it feels like an old urban legend brought to life (although as far as I can tell it is something wholly of Neil’s imagination).
And can we take a moment to talk about opening lines? One of the most consistent pieces of advice I have heard from writers (other than to just write) is that the opening lines need to hook the reader (for both a potential reader and any publishers looking at manuscripts). The very first line in The Graveyard Book?
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
WOW. Can we just take a moment and appreciate this line? Twelve words, but immediately there is tension. Whose hand? Why do they have a knife? What are they going to do with that knife? Why are they in the dark?
Another thing I want to talk about is plotting. There are no coincidences in a story, everything is controlled by the author, so everything comes together at the end. I think this book is a really nice example of that. This isn’t quite the hero’s journey, Bod isn’t on a quest (in fact, for the most part, he doesn’t even leave his home). The story meanders a bit through the middle, it’s almost episodic (which, if I understand Neil’s acknowledgements at the end of the book, chapter 4 at the very least was a separate short story that was published previous to the novel). Bod goes on adventures. He meets the ghost of a witch. He goes through a ghoul gate. He meets a young girl and they meet the Sleer together. But in the last few chapters, all these separate elements come back together beautifully, as Bod utilizes everything he’s learned to combat the men invading his home.
Basically, if you haven’t read this book and you’re looking for something light, I highly recommend it.
Also, here, have some life stuff!! In a week (or so) I will be making a move back across the country to Indiana because I’m foolish (seriously who tries to get BACK to that state? har har). Excited to be young and foolish and make tons of mistakes and eat a ton of bad food because it’s cheap. Screwing up and stuff promotes growth right?
Still working on this completely-longer-than-I-planned-for short story. Have another unedited excerpt:
The nub of the pen made a dull scratching sound as she dragged it across the velum in slow looping motions, trying to draw out the moment. But at last, the last letter of her name had been carved into the paper, and so had her fate. She felt a strange sense of relief at that. Whatever happened now, it was out of her hands. She flopped back into her seat and immediately fell over as the room was rocked with a deafening explosion. She lay there on the floor, her eyes squeezed shut. No, no, no, it can’t be happening again. The air was filled with a dull roar as the bombardment continued. Through the din she could hear Winters shouting for her mother and her to get behind him, get to safety. She tried to follow his orders, to stand up, to move, but her body wouldn’t listen to her. She couldn’t even bring herself to open her eyes. There were a pair of hands on her shoulders now, large and strong, lifting her to her feet. She finally managed to open her eyes. Although the chaos outside continued, everything in the apartment seemed to have frozen. Her mother was collapsed in the corner, makeup streaking down her face from tears, now still as a statue looking toward the door. Winters, seconds before so full of authority and action now also stood motionless, although the hands squeezed painfully around her shoulders spasmed occasionally.