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The Graveyard Book

I don’t think you can know me for very long without realizing I like Neil Gaiman’s writing quite a lot. Some of it’s better than other bits, but over all, the man continues to put out wonderful books. His newest novel, The Graveyard Book, underscores his reputation as a great writer. I read it in one sitting, a few days after it came out. I’d hate to misrepresent myself, so to be fair: I got up once for a drink, chatted with my roommate for a few minutes, but then I got antsy and ran back upstairs to finish it.

Gaiman has said, in an interview, that adults and children read The Graveyard Book as two separate novels. That rings generally true for me, about books as well as life. Children are pleasantly insane, and view the world through a grid of stories. They’re wholly credulous, if you tell your story well. But they’re also more demanding; they invest themselves wholeheartedly or not at all, and they have little patience for insincerity. Children, Gaiman says, see the adventure story in The Graveyard Book. It’s about a kid growing up in a graveyard (obviously, you dim adult) and isn’t that cool? Who wouldn’t want to live in a graveyard with a bunch of nice dead people and learn how to Fade and other ghostly tricks?

The adult—and I sympathize with the child’s judgment of this adult, because they are both simultaneously me—sees The Graveyard Book as an embodiment of Gaiman’s love of life and his belief that we should have no fear of death, themes which run through the rest of his work, but is most explicit in this book (though The Sandman covers similar territory). I disagree. Death is a travesty and corruption and a twisting of life and beauty. (It’s a different story for Christians. Death is only hateful when it’s separation; for us it’s going home and waking up and living true life.) Even so, I never want to get used to death. But the death Gaiman describes is his own wonderfully clean and bright version of death, so it’s the same, in my mind, as when he uses magic: something sweet and fictional, and wouldn’t it be nice if such a thing could be?

I like that Gaiman hasn’t wrapped everything into pretty bows—it’s a story (says the metaphor junkie adult) of growing up, and just as growing up isn’t full of pat solutions, Bod’s life is tangled. Sometimes it works out for him, sometimes not. It’s not simple or fully knowable. But Bod is good and kind anyway. He stands up for his home, and his friends; he does the right thing, or, if he doesn’t, he’s well-intentioned. It’s an optimistic book, as almost all of Gaiman’s stuff is, with the exception of Babycakes (fair warning: that’s disturbing).

Of course, I would have liked more (always more) but that’s a good place to keep the reader. The Hounds of God, the man Jack and his associates, the aura of mystery around Silas: these parts of the story are effective because they tug at the reader and make him create between the gaps. Gaiman put in just enough details to let me create branching histories for those characters, their secret society, mission, and origins. The grasping reader in me wishes, though, in the end, Gaiman had put more in about those things, because he creates stories much better than I do. Or, and I feel the stink of slathering fandom on me even now, I wish he’d write a sequel. Maybe just a novella. Come on, man, just one more, and after that I’ll be fine, I swear. But I know, somewhere deep inside, that he shouldn’t do that. It stands just fine alone.

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