Friday, April 3, 2009

And You Think Your Family’s Not Lively

By Alec Horowitz

Neil Gaiman’s new book ‘The Graveyard Book’ has shades of his other young adult novel ‘Corlaline’. Even, more ironic is that its main character seems to resemble the character Wybie. Wybie wasn’t Gaiman’s creation, even though he appears in the film, ‘Coraline’, based on Gaiman’s novel. He was added to make the film more adaptable to the screen. Wybie, I felt, was a wonderful character and very relatable. He was that lost, awkward kid in all of us.

The main character is a young boy who was adopted by ghosts as a baby, after his family is murdered. The most charming moments in the book are the simplest. Moments like the warmth of Ms. Owen, who died quite a while ago, but is now a ghost, deciding to adopt the nameless baby as her own. Gaiman weirdly doesn’t seem to use his adoptive parents enough. He instead has them come in and out, and misses an opportunity to paint a supernatural family that would be been quite charming. I would of loved to see a parent teacher conference when the child, they name Noboby Ownens, goes to school, with ghost parents showing up or a scene where they are at a dinner table in the grave yard. Of course, his adoptive parents don’t eat. It would of helped with chemistry if Nobody called them mom and dad once in a while, which he doesn’t. Gaiman could of played more with that, but on the other hand, Gaiman doesn’t write charming kids. Often writers will write kids as charming just because they happen to be kids. Gaiman doesn’t believe in this, and instead makes his young characters charming in small doses, but makes them more realistic in their attitudes. Coralline wasn’t very charming either.

In ‘The Graveyard Book’, Gaiman introduces us to what is really a collection of short stories with the same characters. Nobody Owens ages from a baby to a young man in the book. One of the more charming things about ‘The Graveyard Book’ is watching Nobody Owens grow up. He can be a fussy little kid, who always threatens to run away, causing pain to his overprotective adopted mother and going against the advice of his guardian, Silas. The reader might thing Silas is dead, but in fact, Silas has some abilities that even the other dead in the graveyard seem to lack, which shows that Silas is something else. Silas tries to guide young Nobody Owens and keep him in line; at times being affectionate and other times growing quite mad with him. Gaiman recently revealed in an interview that Silas is a vampire, but the word ‘vampire’ is never mentioned in the book. The people in the graveyard generally care for the little living boy, while also being frustrated with him. He is frustrated himself, as he isn’t able to ever leave the graveyard.

Nobody wants to learn how to get revenge on the people who killed his family. He brings it up throughout the book. The feel of the murder at the beginning of the book felt like it happened in a shadowy old town, or that’s how I felt about it. As much as I did like many elements of this book, what I didn’t think worked was the reasoning the murderer gives later on in the book for why he killed Nobody’s family. It had to do with an ancient society. That idea is only talked about in one chapter and with the feeling of most of the novel, taking place in a graveyard, which felt out of place. It should have been like an old time British killer. Come on, Neil, that’s just random. With the fantasy feeling of the novel and the tone of the book, it doesn’t seem to fit.

The nature of the book is quite wonderful when Gaiman keeps the tone of a fantasy world. There are little pieces of modernity that come into the book, but very little. He brings in the modern stuff with the supporting character of the girl he meets from the village. We see her twice in the book, once as a young child and next as a tween, who keeps looking back at the time she spent with Nobody, thinking she made him up. Their interactions are quite nice at times and are also realistic. They aren’t meant to be together. They are two kids in bad situations who get stuck in one certain situation and probably won’t see each other again.

Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’ is a fantasy and horror genre remake of ‘Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book’, with a little boy being adopted by the forest animals, but this time it happens to be the graveyard ghosts. It’s a children’s novel, so it’s probably good for kids twelve and over to read. The language is relatively simple. The plot is really short stories instead of a straight narrative. Still, like the big twelve year old I am, the ending still made me tear up a bit.

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