“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”
The Graveyard Book is essentially a children’s book, but that does not limit this story merely to that demographic. I believe that its lighthearted tone, philosophical life lessons and engaging nature makes it a book enjoyable for all, of any age.
I remember reading The Graveyard Book six years ago, when I was twelve, when my English teacher recommended it to me, after studying the first chapter in lesson. Although I loved it, I could now only vaguely remember a boy named Bod, a man called Jack, and some mischievous adventures. So, when my brother, Ed, listened to this on Audible, I thought it was time to dive in again.
“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.”
This book is about a boy called Nobody Owens, Bod for short, after his family are killed by a man named Jack. He grows up being curious and inquisitive, like most children, but what makes Bod different is that he is raised by the ghosts of the graveyard.
The story is essentially a coming of age story about Bod, with each chapter forming what is practically a short mischievous tale, with a lesson and type of character growth from each. This structure put it nicely into bite-sized chunks that you can read in one small sitting. These essentially small stories link together and slowly drop more information about the world and plot in a very subtle manner that all builds up to a big finale.
I think anyone who has read a work of Neil Gaiman’s can agree that no matter the substance of the story, his prose is brilliant. There is a reason that he is one of the bestselling authors of all time, and part of that is how fluid his prose is. He manages to craft the perfect tone for his stories, and his skill as an author is shown by how this changes from book to book, with the melancholic tone of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, to this whimsical tale.
“If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.”
Neil Gaiman loves a story that incorporates the world we live in, with a magical underbelly, like in Neverwhere, or Stardust. He does this brilliantly, and The Graveyard Book is another story that takes on those fun and intriguing aspects, whilst offering a new spin that differs from his other novels.
Sometimes with Neil Gaiman’s works, I feel that his characters are not as successful as they could be, and this is often my only critique. But, no need to worry with The Graveyard Book, fore in this story Neil Gaiman delivers a wonderful cast of characters each with their own amusing mannerisms and intriguing characteristics, from the serious yet kind guardian Silas, to the witch Liza Hempstock, to Bod himself. Neil Gaiman said that he wanted to write a different version of The Jungle Book, hence the relationship in title to The Graveyard Book, and in the ensemble aspect of this story, Neil Gaiman again delivers brilliantly.
“You're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.”
As with The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman narrates this audiobook. I think to appreciate his skill both as a writer and narrator, you have to listen to more than one of his stories, because he changes his entire tone and pacing according to what suits the story. Some narrators are great, but they are not malleable, and sometimes use the same formula for every book, which loses some of the potential. But, Neil Gaiman wonderfully crafts the whimsical tone and light-hearted atmosphere whilst equally conveying Bod’s curiosity that made me intrigued. One of the best narrations I’ve has the pleasure to read.
“You're alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you're dead, it's gone. Over. You've made what you've made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.”
The Graveyard Book is a wonderful story suitable for those of all ages, with something for everyone. It is reasonably short, and each chapter is structured into basically what is a short story, so you can bead this in reasonable chunks that leave you satisfied at every stop. One of my favourite reads of the year so far. It was really a joy to return to this tale that I had largely forgotten, and I hope this review encourages others to read this magical coming of age story.
‘Adults follow paths. Children explore’
I listened to The Ocean at the End of the Lane on Audible, narrated by Neil Gaiman himself. A story about childhood struggles, growing up, coming to terms with the world, and of course, magic. It was beautiful and sometimes brutal. It is Neil Gaiman's melancholic tone that emanated from his every word wonderfully brought the pages to life in what a found to be a great read.
This is a short novel, which revolves around a nameless central narrator, who returns to the house they grew up in as an adult. On walking along long forgotten paths, memories start to flood back, and he reminisces and contemplates times he thought long forgotten. This is a retrospective tale that sensitively shows memories that are vague, but realistically highlights traumatic moments in visceral detail in a way that really ties you to the story and central character.
“Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
As always, Neil Gaiman’s prose can only be praised. He has somehow unlocked a mythic quality to his writing that just exudes the very tone and sense he seems to be striving for. That mix of childhood naivety with the regrets of adulthood are conveyed perfectly, and this was made even better somehow through his own narration. As I have already said, Neil Gaiman narrated The Ocean at the End of the Lane as if the world really did weigh on his shoulders, as it seems to do so with the narrator. Having listened to him reading other books, I know that he adapted his tone for this purpose, and that makes it even more impressive.
It is set in Sussex, with a young boy who tackles struggling relationships with parents, and is suddenly faced by the realisation that they are not the flawless idols he previously believed. This throws his entire life out of balance, and is where much of the fantastical element of the story comes in. What is brilliant is that this could easily be argued to be Neil Gaiman presenting the defence mechanism of a child to cope with shocking events, or maybe there are monsters and magical creatures who step in to help and withdraw then they are no longer needed.
“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”
What prevents this being proclaimed as a 5-star read is perhaps that I would have liked to have a closer relationship with our central characters, as well perhaps know more about what the narrator did with much of his life when this story of his childhood concluded. Whilst this was not have changed the story, I think they would have just added that bit more depth that would gave moved this story into one of my favourites.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an easy, beautifully written story that beautifully tells the story of the loss of childhood innocence. If you enjoy audiobooks, I would strongly recommend that you go find the version of this narrated by Neil Gaiman.
Comics are fundamentally a visual media, so adapting them to a purely audio format is going to be a challenge. Adapting Neil Gaiman’s award-winning The Sandman series which features Morpheus, the lord of dreams, might be even more so. I’m pleased to say that it’s a challenge that Dirk Maggs and Audible met head-on.