“Suppose we pick a name for him, eh?”
Caius Pompeius stepped over and eyed the child. “He looks a little like my proconsul, Marcus. We could call him Marcus.”
Josiah Worthington said, “He looks more like my head gardener, Stebbins. Not that I’m suggesting Stebbins as a name. The man drank like a fish.”
“He looks like my nephew Harry,” said Mother Slaughter…
“He looks like nobody but himself,” said Mrs.Owens, firmly. “He looks like nobody.”
“Then Nobody it is,” said Silas. “Nobody Owens.”
This has, without a doubt, got to be my favourite Gaiman after Sandman.
From the very first sentence, you’re hooked. Being Gaiman, he’s managed to get a wonderful illustrator to complement his writing. (Dave McKean? You’re awesome.) But now you’re thinking – because that’s all there is on the page, and you need to take a minute to mind-yell about how this is the most amazing first page ever – Why on earth does a “children’s book” start this way? And you realise you don’t care, because it’s Neil Gaiman, and you trust this strange man with stranger ideas – and if my mum had read this to me when I was a kid, I’d think she was the definition of cool.
C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I agree. And this guy seems to be able to find the perfect balance. While I still read some of my Famous Five books from time to time, the only reason I enjoy them is because they bring back memories. Half the time, I skip entire chapters. With The Graveyard Book, I read it twice, back to back, and I might read it again once I complete my reading challenges – it’s that good. It’s engaging, and beautifully written, plus I don’t feel like he’s “talking down to me” – and that is my definition of a good children’s book.
Sidenote: The reason I’m spending so much time on this is because I think every kid should try reading this – and I know parents will be wary because it’s about Nobody (Bod, for short) being raised in a graveyard. But if your child reads Lemony Snicket, or Philip Pullman, or Harry Potter, even, I’d give them this (and read over their shoulder).
So. What is this book about, I hear you ask. Well, what does any book that has to do with a child in a graveyard have? It’s got an endearing mother-figure, a dead poet that took his revenge on the world by not letting anybody read his work, ghouls that name themselves after their first meal, and the man Jack. Several men Jack, actually. (Or is that man Jacks? This is going to keep me up at night.)
I’ve got to say, Gaiman has a real talent for creating characters that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. I have a weakness for mysterious, intelligent men and strong female characters, and his books have got plenty of those. There was Morpheus in Sandman, The Marquis in Neverwhere, and Crowley (An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards) in Good Omens. Also, Door, Hunter, and Coraline. In this book – there’s Liza Hempstock, Miss Lupescu and Silas.
“There were people you could hug, and then there was Silas.”
“Repeat after me, there are the living and the dead, there are day-folk and night-folk, there are ghouls and mist-walkers, there are high hunters and the Hounds of God. Also, there are solitary types.”
“What are you?” asked Bod.
“I,” she said sternly, “am Miss Lupescu.”
“And what is Silas?”
She hesitated. Then she said, “He is a solitary type.”
I absolutely adore Silas. You’re never told what he is, though. Someone here called him a vampire, and while he does have some vampire-y traits, I needed to be sure. So I tried looking it up on Gaiman’s FAQ section, and this is what I found:
Q: What is Silas in The Graveyard Book?
A: Silas is a Very Important Character in The Graveyard Book. Also, he is Bod’s Guardian.
Well played, Mr.Gaiman. Well played.