Book Notes: In “The Graveyard Book,” Death Teaches Life

James Walpole/ May 25, 2018

Tim Ferriss said it was one of his favorite audiobooks. Neil Gaiman writes great, original-yet-grounded fantasy stories. That was enough for me.

I recently finished an audiobook version of The Graveyard Book, read by the author in all kinds of wonderful accents: Scottish, Russian, and multiple English accents (high and low) from multiple eras in time.

In the beginning of The Graveyard Booka young baby survives the brutal murder of his family. He wanders away from his home (and the site of the crime) in the middle of the night and finds shelter with the ghosts of an ancient nearby graveyard, who adopt him and raise him as “Nobody Owens,” or “Bod.”

For much of the early part of The Graveyard Book, we get to indulge in imagination of what a childhood in a graveyard might be like. Gaiman strings together small vignettes of Bod’s childhood – his adventures ranging from age 5 to age 15 among Victorian ghosts, 18th century ghosts, a Roman ghost, ghouls, a werewolf, and Celtic barrow treasure.

That vignette approach makes The Graveyard Book great. Most chapters could be self-contained stories, each with their own moral. The book feels like a great book of stories, until you see how Gaiman is weaving together a coming of age narrative that will bring Bod against his mortal enemy – the man who murdered his family.

This book is full of great characterization (and Gaiman’s voice-acting is really excellent), fun call-outs to history (it is mostly set in a graveyard after all), and all the adventure and mystery and coming-of-age you could hope for a young lad of a protagonist.

The book is also thoughtful, and it will make you think about your relationship with death and the dead. Particularly in the chapter about the Dance Macabre, we get to see Gaiman’s wisdom about the importance of honoring those dead and cheerily greeting the death that waits for us down the line. And in Bod’s character, we see someone who has integrated those lessons and can still step into the light of the living – the boy who walks the border between the living and the dead as (roughly) Gaiman puts it.

I loved The Graveyard Book. You’ll be glad if you give it a listen.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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