This month, I’m participating in a read-along of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, as part of R.I.P. We’re looking at a few chapters a week, with no specific questions for each post. This week, a discussion on the first three chapters.
I’ve read The Graveyard Book before, but it’s been a few years and some of the details have gone fuzzy. I do remember the shadowy feel of the book, and that I enjoyed it! So I’m looking forward to digging into in greater depth. (I suspect there’s a pun somewhere in that “digging in” phrase…but we’ll just move along…)
For those not familiar with the book, it tells the story of Bod, a living orphan who is being raised by a community of ghosts. The first chapter describes how this situation came about, and the next two share a couple of Bod’s childhood adventures.
The first thing that struck me on picking this up again was the pictures. The first few pages of each chapter are illustrated with wonderful black and white drawings that set the shadowy tone of the book so well.
Gaiman makes a very interesting choice by starting us out in the point of view of a murderer, the man Jack who killed Bod’s family. What’s particularly remarkable is that he manages such a deft balance of starting us in an unbelievably horrible situation–but I don’t feel inclined to slam the book and walk away. It is horrible, and it’s certainly dark and creepy (just the phrase “the man Jack” is so creepy), but it never quite becomes grotesque or too twisted. And if you’ve read the Sandman graphic novels, you know Gaiman is capable of going there! As it is, this sets up a wonderful darkness without scaring squeamish me off of the book.
I also love that it’s the living man who’s frightening–the ghosts are quite homey and pleasant. They have a close community in the graveyard, with each ghost living in his or her respective crypt, all going about much the same community relations that they had in life. And why not?
In Chapter Two, Bod makes a human friend, a little girl named Scarlett whose mother thought it made sense to bring her to play in a graveyard (a nature reserve, technically). The two of them venture into a dark depth of the graveyard and encounter very strange and sinister creatures. I enjoyed some of the contrast between Bod and Scarlett, but wish Gaiman had done more with that. Ultimately they both end up not being afraid of what appears to be a monster–and I totally get that Bod is used to the strange and the supernatural, but I don’t understand why Scarlett, as a normal little girl, calms down remarkably quickly. Perhaps I’m just meant to take her as being special too.
My favorite thing about Scarlett, though, is probably that she thinks Bod is an imaginary friend. What a wonderfully fuzzy margin between reality and imagination!
In Chapter Three, Bod gets a new tutor, Miss Lupescu (whose name makes her secret fairly obvious), and ends up captured by ghouls. The best thing about the ghouls is their names. They all receive new names when they become ghouls, names which properly reflect the high esteem ghouls hold themselves in: names like “the famous writer Victor Hugo” or “the Bishop of Bath and Wells” or “the 33rd President of the United States.” And they’re never shortened.
So far, the book is quite episodic, with each chapter almost a self-contained short story. I do seem to recall, however, that threads begun in one place will come back in another, and it’s going to be fun to watch that weaving. And the short story nature makes this good for a read-along!