Kipling in the graveyard with a distinctly Gaiman twist.
I think of Neil Gaiman as a multi-media author these days; not only did he wreak a revolution in comics, but he’s also written best-seller novels for both adult and young-adult (if we must make that distinction), award-winning short stories, a Hugo-winning movie, and also reads his own audio books. These days the Gaiman experience is incomplete without an audio reading of his work, read by him. Not every author reads their work out loud well; Neil Gaiman is a treasure.
So The Graveyard Book thrives in multiple editions: print, multiple eBook formats, and multiple audio formats. I bought the Kindle edition (natch) and the Audible edition, since the Kindle can play audio books with all their chapter stops and saving places. ((The initial registration process is awful and requires a Windows machine. Crossover doesn’t cut it; no idea whether VMWare would. However, you never have to do it ever again, and then onward it’s just download-to-Macbook-upload-to-Kindle-and-go.)) For free, you can listen to the video tour, where he reads each chapter from signing to signing.
The Graveyard Book is Gaiman playing off of Kipling. Some of the early chapters ring closely, though not too closely, to Kipling’s Jungle Book, but midway through the book strikes out entirely on its own. In other words, the story is largely Neil Gaiman being Neil Gaiman. There is a distinct Gaiman touch to anything he does, from the mythologically gothic (distinct from being simply gothic) to the smooth, dark figure of Silas; but each and every work stands out, and this is no exception.
What I love best about Neil Gaiman is that he has a playfulness about his stories. Such a trait adds extra flexibility that doesn’t exist in a writer who takes everything seriously ((Insert “why so serious?” joke here.)), because being playful means you can even think about something as absurd as a boy being raised by a graveyard, much less bring it to life as well as he does. And that would apply to all of his stories, books and movies and plays and all, even the less successful ones (who remembers The Last Temptation?). This trait is shared by many great writers, but in Gaiman it’s particularly attuned to what may be thought of as urban fantasy, although that’s not quite the right term for it: it’s the fantastical threaded into the real world. This is his gift, and it results in whimsical stories that are so readable to a wide audience because they ply the real and the unreal together, in a down-to-earth way.
His audio books are quite an experience. He has a lovely reading voice and knows how to wield it when telling stories—the pacing, the voices, what tones to use where, etc. It’s not a skill set every author has, even if they’re reading their own work (we hear it clearly in our heads, but that’s different somehow). Coraline and the introduction to Fragile Things still stand out in my mind as the best of his readings, but the rest is not far behind, and his reading of The Graveyard Book is pure quality.
Over at Tor.com there’s a wonderful review of The Graveyard Book written by Bridget McGovern, where she has many things to say about why Neil Gaiman writes children’s books so well.
I wonder if there will be further stories set in this world? The final farewells whisper The Jungle Book, of course, and a sundering of man from the mythical, but in The Jungle Book Mowgli came back when his help was needed. There are echoes of a more grown-up struggle beneath the story, and perhaps that will bear fruit one day.
Ah, Neil Gaiman. I can always count on you to brighten up my day with stories about the dead.