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The Graveyard Book

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

I don't have much to say about this book. I wouldn't try to talk anyone out of reading it, but I won't give it a hearty recommendation either. The Graveyard Book won the Hugo in 2009, along with Newberry and Carnegie Medals, and garnered several other nominations as well. Did it deserve those accolades? I haven't read any of the other Hugo nominees from that year yet, although I have three of them, and the only title from the Nebulas I've read is the winner, Ursula Le Guin's Powers, which is much better.

Gaiman plays fast and loose with conventional ghost story tropes, throwing in a lot of extraneous elements simply to make the story work. A toddler is miraculously able to escape a master assassin out to kill his whole family, makes it to a nearby cemetery, where the ghosts within are not only able to hide the boy from his pursuer, they later train him in the techniques of Fading (avoiding detection by mortals) and passing through solid objects. The boy is "adopted" by husband and wife ghosts who had never had children, renaming him Nobody Owens, Bod for short. They and others can touch him, pick him up and carry him, and handle other objects. Silas agrees to be his guardian, since he can leave the cemetery to get Bod food, clothing, and other things. Silas might not be a ghost, maybe some other elemental spirit, it's not clear. Later we learn he is part of the Honour Guard, known to ghosts at other cemeteries too.

Each chapter is essentially a separate vignette, as Bod encounters various other ghosts, or in a couple of instances, other live humans. The cemetery is a very old one, going back thousands of years, not used for burials for quite a while, but oddly enough, also a city nature preserve. One of the oldest ghosts is a Roman from the time of their occupation, but even older still is an unmarked barrow from Celtic times. But of course they all speak English close enough to its modern vernacular to communicate with each other. This is essentially a children's story, a fairy tale. I'm not saying that's a negative in itself, except it's not as revelatory or profound as the subject matter deserved. For something in more of a serious vein, I'd suggest George Saunder's Lincoln in the Bardo, which at this time is on my Hugo nomination list for next year. I often keep books in case I might want to reread them, or loan or give them to someone else. This one goes on the resell/trade-in pile.

 

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Author
Neil Gaiman

Published
2008

Awards
Winner of:
Hugo
Newberry
Carnegie

Finalist for:
World Fantasy
British Fantasy
Mythopoeic

Available from amazon.com