My parents and I live practically 15 minutes away. If you too live in a metro city like New Delhi, you’ll know what a boon it is. But this boon of mine is going to become void soon. To their delight and my utter shock, they have decided to move into their new place, an hour away from me, that too if I travel in the non-peak hours. I feel like I am being married off again. As much as I am happy for them for having found a place to settle down for the rest of their future, I am sad at the thought of them moving away, literally to another state. A lot of you must have been/are away from your family. How does it feel? Liberating? Sad? Content that at least you can talk/visit them? Emotions are varied, and they can’t be singled out.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is the story of a young orphan who is adopted by the ghosts of a graveyard. The story, divided into 8 chapters of the boy’s life tells us of the adventures he has in his growing up years and of a past that holds key to his future.
The man Jack failed. The boy escaped. And escaped such that he left no trace behind him. How could that have happened? How could a year old toddler escape a fully grown man, nah, assassin? Fate. And the little boy’s fate took him to the arms of a waiting mother, not the one who birthed him, but one who was dead for centuries now.
Nobody Owens was just a baby when Mrs. and Mr. Owens of the graveyard adopted him. Silas, the mysterious non-living, non-dead agreed to become his guardian and to protect him until the right time. And the rest of the ghosts of the graveyard too pitched in from time to time to save and make the little hero’s life as normal as they could. Bod grows up in the graveyard, learning history and tricks from its inhabitants, navigating the graves like second nature, escapes becoming a ghoul, and never wandering out until he starts to get intrigued by the world outside. His problems, then arise. Having escaped a murder attempt that wiped out his entire family, Bod finds himself amidst a situation where he might directly land into the hands of the killer. Luckily, his presence of mind and his witch friend manage to pull him out of harm. Bod’s urge to learn and attend formal school leads him to a pair of bullies, who spell more trouble than either Bod or Silas would have wanted. Once again, he and Silas manage to avoid the unwanted. But when Bod’s only living childhood friend returns after almost a decade, Bod’s need to interact with the living and to know about his past unearths.
What will this re-establishment of friendship lead to? The freedom that Bod now dreams of or the end that he escaped as a baby?
So, I wouldn’t comment on the author’s writing here, which I must say I am in love with. After J.K.Rowling, Neil is my comfort author now. Not only because I enjoyed his writing, but because I enjoyed his story so much that I read it in flat 2 days given that I have an extremely active toddler to look after. The story is simple. The emotions, complex. Was it comical? Was it serious? Was it happy or sad? It is difficult to pinpoint the exact nature of the story. I was sorry for Bod when he gets orphaned and happy when he is adopted. It was funny to see his way of life in the graveyard and sad to see him yearning for some living company. I was proud of him when he does what is right even when it meant risking his life and for the young man, he becomes.
Bod’s relationships despite being in negligible contact with the living are truer than anyone living. His camaraderie with his guardian is special. His being in awe of Silas as a child, being angry when not allowed what he wants and life-altering discussions as a teenager mark his growth and that of their relationship. Though Bod’s relationships with others are not as explored as that with Silas, they still speak a lot in whatever space they are confined. There were loopholes, yes. And it was illogical at times. The reason for the murder of Bod’s family remains shrouded. The explanation provided seemed half cooked. The man Jack is still a mystery to me. So were most of the characters apart from Silas and Bod himself. Theirs was an in-depth character building, strong foundations, and walls. It would have been better had the others were given their due space.
This story is for both adults and children. Keeping the roots embedded and the wings flying high is what it is. The majority of adults in the story are sensible, and children are inquisitive. With a keen eye, Gaiman balances Bod’s curiosity with Silas’s maturity, the eccentric adventures that Bod has in the graveyard with his experiences in the outside world and the magical lore with ground realities. It was all so lucid and easy to miss that you only realize its true worth when you flip the last page.
As much as I enjoyed reading this, I know my daughter, when she is old enough to understand will enjoy it too. It was a ride worth taking with Bod. Learning to live, from the dead.