The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

As pretty much everyone knows, I’m a big fan of graveyards.  I’m quite fond of Mr. Gaiman, too, and so, it was time to check out this novel. From the library, ’cause, well, who doesn’t love the library?

I started this book last weekend, and have been reading it in spare moments. I finished it tonight, and am not at all ashamed to admit, I found myself  fighting tears in those last pages.

The Graveyard Book is the story of a young man who finds shelter as a toddler in an old graveyard. He’s protected by the ghosts from the man called Jack, who killed his family, and means to kill the boy.

The boy, who comes to be called “Bod,” short for “Nobody,”  is raised by the dead, who give him an education in more than just reading, writing and ‘rithmatic. He learns the history you can’t get in a text book, plus handy tips on how to stay hidden from the killer lurking just outside the gates of the cemetery.

Like most of Gaiman’s stories, there’s magic and myth woven together in the framework of the contemporary world.  The ancient cemetery, which holds many secrets and things beyond the experiences of the living, is an evocative backdrop for the tale as the lad grows up and has adventures in the land of the dead that he calls home.

I admit, part of me is jealous of a boy raised in one of those ancient burial grounds that traces its origins through millennia.  The sense of a place that reaches across great swats of time, binding past, present and future in that common human experience of life and death,  is magic in itself, even without the touch of the “fairy magic” in the tale.   How wonderful it would be to speak to the people whose names are etched on the stones, and learn about what they saw and learned, and find out what inspired their maddeningly tantalizing and vague epitaphs.

I will also admit, that I have, after spending time transcribing and photographing a cemetery, felt like I had a connection to the people that rest there. This probably sounds ridiculous, yet, still, it’s there.

I’ve come to notice that each cemetery has its own personality. This personality is a weird blend of those buried there, who “express” themselves through their markers, both in the art, and in the words they leave inscribed on the stone.

I always have had a good memory, and it seems to have an especial facility with cemeteries. I can always find, within a few feet, where a specific marker is, months or even years after I’ve completed the block. You say a name, and I can see the stone, and its surroundings. I can usually even recall the material it’s made of and the general look of it, each as unique to me as faces in a crowd.

The idea of knowing a cemetery as Bod does, every marker and tree root,  is, perhaps strangely, comforting to me. He had the additional bonus of knowing what the “residents” looked like, how the talked, and their own unique speech patterns, inextricably linked to a time long ago.

The graveyard that is Bod’s home had that same sense of place to me, and felt as authentic a cemetery as the ones I’ve visited. Through the book, I got to  know this place. It was hard to know that one day, the living boy would have to leave his home.  I could not help but feel that loss along with Bod, and there’s something beautiful in a story that can take the reader along the same paths as the main character.