I had lunch with my friend Geniune today as we do every Wednesday and it occurred to me that I need to start blogging that.
I promise pics of the beautiful Geniune (say JANINE, it’s just a French spelling that her mom liked), who is 5′ 10″ and has blonde dreadlocks and about 20 tattoos. And the food, too.
Geniune is smart and well-read and I enjoy how she busts stereotypes about tattooed people. She’s not a hippie tattooed girl, more of a punk/glam hippie-hating tattooed girl with a pit bull and a big record collection. She is an avid consumer of books and media, a great cook, and you should have seen her in the black cocktail minidress she wore at her wedding this summer.
She’s my Wednesday lunch date every week, and I think it’ll be fun to have snaps and informal reviews of Asheville’s lunch spots. Plus, best of all, that girl has never been to 12 Bones.
This needs to change.
I quit reading books a few years back. College ate my brain, and I did so much reading that doing more of it just felt like work. After a lifetime of reading for an hour in bed ever night, I changed my routine. I went to bed bookless with a naked and unstirred brain.
Me who was called bookworm by family growing up, me who loved to come home to a good book waiting on my pillow (I’d make my bed and put it there, sighing with content), me who read a book every three weeks for over thirty years…
One day I just quit. One tired, adult-student night I did the strange thing of getting ready for bed and then getting into bed and turning the light off for sleeping, just like in the movies. No book.
But recently I heard that Neil Gaiman had a new book coming out. I’m a fan. And it was getting rave reviews.
It was called The Graveyard Book, and it was about a child who wandered away from his home one night and ended up in a graveyard, where he was adopted by its residents. All of whom are dead, ghosts, save for Silas, a slim man in black who casts no reflection.
I thought it sounded like just what I wanted for fall. I had a Malaprop‘s birthday gift cert from friends Katie and Laura, and last week, just after lunching with Geniune at the excellent Nine Mile (a pasta restaurant even I can like; try the raw zucchini pasta), bought my book.
Lord, I swallowed the whole thing in just a few days. It’s a fun read. What follows isn’t a review, just some thoughts…CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!
I am going to name some faults but the first thing I’d like to say about The Graveyard Book is that I DEVOURED it. I think I read it in 3 or 4 days, letting it keep me up at night, an honor I grant to few in this world and fewer still happily.
I don’t think Gaiman gets enough credit for being funny, and the man is very, very funny. Or at least, like the person who finds someone’s taste in music like their own and calls it good, his sense of humor is perhaps like mine. (I read his blog and find him the most appealing prospective husband on the web, not for reasons of lust but for reasons that a man with a pumpkin garden in an old Victorian house who likes sushi, cats and Gene Wolfe, will at some point probably end up married to me anyway, in this life or some better one).
My favorite was the ghouls. “Ghouls,” in Gaiman’s novel, are a sort of cross between zombies and Tolkien’s orcs (for their garrulous talk and their traveling in packs). They’re animated dead people with no memory of their previous life, only a taste for dead flesh and a sort of chummy humor, good-natured but sinister. Best are their names, which are not names but titles — The 33rd President of the United States, the Emperor of China.
The ghouls live on another planet, to which they kidnap living humans to change into ghouls. Bit of a lifted riff from Phantasm, there. Gaiman also seems to lift his own Necropolis story (from Sandman; a city inhabited by the pale and dour where city where death and burial are a way of life).
Like a fresh parsnip (even one plucked from the earth of a graveyard), the book has a wonderful sweetness. The lost boy is adopted by the community of the dead, and loved and raised by them, and in a lovely reversal, the ghosts are the good guys, protecting and loving the child they name Nobody from a villain in the world of the living.
The bad? The weak ruse of J. Frost, who was so ill-concealed I was expecting some sort of surprise reversal I never got. The fake Frost never worked as a character for me, and by the time he was asking Nobody over to come see his house, I was sighing moodily, disappointed that such a master storyteller ever thought this could fool anyone.
And what was the battle fought by Silas and Lupescu and the odd, bearded, flying mummy? It didn’t work to have a major new plot point introduced so late, with nearly all of its action off to the side.
And the Sleer? WTF? A never-explained deus ex machina to whisk away the villian at the end. What were they? How was it known that Nobody was the downfall of the Men Jack? Who were they, anyway?
Too much offscreen, too many questions never addressed, and the ill-concealed reappearance Frost… But these hardly ruined the book for me. It was far too fun and well-written for that. I just can’t join the bandwagon of people saying it’s a new classic of children’s lit.
I love Neil Gaiman’s work but find him inconsistent, and thought his children’s book The Wolves in the Walls was dreadful.
Coraline and Sandman, though, are as good as people say they are. Sandman is called one of the greatest comic book series ever written (I’m not qualified to offer an educated opinion, but as a reader, I agree). Coraline was called a new classic in children’s lit, and that book, in my opinion as a reader and juvenile lit fan, is worthy of such high praise.
The Graveyard Book is a lovely mix of sweet, disturbing and funny, a grand book to settle into on a cold autumn night. Cats, tea, warm blankets and soft pillows improved my experience of the book, and while it did need other improvement in my opinion, it was an enchanting way to spend a few chilly evenings in bed.
And like many good children’s books, it has parts scary to kids and horrifying to adults. It begins with the murder of virtually an entire family, after which the busy, knife-wielding villain’s hand is described as “wet.” My, not even the BFG himself, roald Dahl, went that far.
It seems, after a long break, my reading mind is waking up.
The Graveyard Book is done; here’s my latest read:
We’ll see if it too is worth writing about.