Monday, December 8, 2008

From beyond the grave

I understand that Neil Gaiman's promotional tour for The Graveyard Book was him reading a chapter (in chronological order) at each bookstore appearance. And, once he'd made an appearance (and read a chapter), that audio was posted on the (retail) publisher's website. I don't think that was how they produced the audiobook. Still, it was pretty cool. Well, pretty Gaiman (which means cool). And, well, The Graveyard Book was pretty cool, too.

A rather sinister man with a knife has dispatched the family living in an old house, all except for the toddler sleeping on the top floor. This child -- who has just learned how to walk -- slips out of his crib and bumps down the stairs and out the door, and makes his way to the nearby graveyard; it's no longer used to bury people, but its residents are still fairly active at night. When the baby arrives, they all seem to know that he needs protection. Mr. and Mrs. Owens take him in, calling him Nobody. The Owenses need someone who is not dead to help them care for Bod -- someone who can leave the graveyard for food and clothing and the like -- and the mysterious Silas steps forward as guardian. Silas isn't dead, but he's not alive either.

As Bod grows up, he has numerous adventures in and out of the graveyard. Some adventures are humorous, some poignant (the danse macabre), and some downright scary. Because the man Jack who murdered his family needs to finish the job, no matter how long it takes. Fortunately -- until Bod is old enough to deal with Jack himself -- Silas, the Owens, the wonderful Mrs. Lupescu (teacher and werewolf), Liza (buried in unconsecrated ground because she was a witch), and his other friends and neighbors are there to teach him about the world. Gaiman has created a world that feels very real, and is populated by an array of characters who clearly hold a place in the author's affections. With the exception of the evil man Jack(s), a cup of tea with anyone you meet in Bod's graveyard would be delightful.

I think they are so delightful because of Gaiman's reading. His familiarity with the story must lead to the ease with which he reads it. Gaiman can be droll, he can be scary, he can be moving all with equal skill. It must have been so fun to be at one of his readings. (I've never read his adult stuff ... I might have to keep an eye out for him at Powell's if he ever makes it to Portland). I can still hear his voices for Mrs. Lupescu (Transylvanian, of course), the saucy Liza, the Owenses, and an over-the-top bad poet buried in a corner of the graveyard. He's quiet and curious as Bod (whose name -- in what I appreciated as a nice twist for an audiobook -- is often mistaken as Bob), and calm and slightly menacing as Silas (Silas is the vampire of the moment, not that other guy!). I quibble about his interpretation of Bod's human friend, Scarlet, whose Scots accent sort of came and went.

Each chapter begins with a wonderful snippet of Camille Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre, played (I hear) by Bela Fleck. It sets an appropriately threatening tone to the proceedings. Gaiman talks a little bit about that, and about recording the book in this blog entry.

I think we're going to have some discussions about age appropriateness next month. Is it too young for 12- and 13-year olds? I don't think so ... they're just the right age to enjoy it, but not be scared. At the library, we might have to recommend it only for "nonsensitive" younger readers. I also think there's a whole community of Gaiman-ites (if I may call them that) that will read anything he writes.

There's Newbery buzz about this book ... I wonder if it's on the Odyssey shortlist? Hmmm...

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