Neil Gaiman has made a very impressive transition from writing popular graphic novels like Sandman to some very successful adult-oriented fantasy novels, including the recent Anansi Boys. Along the way he’s also produced all sorts of other interesting expressions of his storytelling skills, including movies based on his books like the forthcoming animated film based on his childrens graphic novel Coraline.
One interesting recent release is The Graveyard Book, an illustrated young adult novel which ought to appeal to a fairly broad audience beyond just the age group it is being superficially marketed to. The idea of the book is a macabre variation of Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The twist is that instead of being raised by animals in the jungle, after fleeing from the murder of his family, young Noboby Owens ends up being raised by friendly ghosts in a graveyard. It’s a clever concept, and the story unfolds well, with several of the ghosts and Noboby’s mysterious undead guardian developed as interesting characters. The exploration of the problems faced by a kid raised by ghosts as he becomes a teenager and ultimately an adult is interesting. The resolution of the meta-plot of a shadowy worldwide organization which wants Nobody dead is in the background for most of the book, but gets wrapped up nicely by the end. It actually left me hoping for a sequel and more adventures of Nobody Owens, which I hadn’t really expected.
In length it is actually more of a novella, given some added substance with black and white illustrations by Dave McKean. I found the interior artwork less than engaging, though the cover design is good. The style is evocative but rudimentary and not particularly engaging. But the writing and the story are first rate, and I’d recommend The Graveyard Book for adult readers as well as the teen audience it’s targeted to.