Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Must Read -A Dark, Delicious Tale for All Ages

Every once in a while comes a book that makes it to my Top Reads list. The kind of book that I keep on reading, page after page, with utter pleasure and satisfaction, in dread of interruptions, until I reach The End. Unputdownable!

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (TGB) is just such a book. With a morbid-sounding title and somewhat spine-tingling cover to boot, it isn’t exactly the sort of thing you’d want to curl up in bed with. But that’s exactly what I did, staying up three nights in a row to finish the book.

TGB starts on a chilling note that grabs you from the word go yet progresses in a gently humorous manner. “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife…,” the tale begins, as the sinister assassin Jack goes on to snuff out three lives. But the fourth and tiniest member of the family escapes, inexplicably. The rest of the story details the toddler’s survival and the outcome when he reaches his teens.

The orphaned babe, named Nobody Owens (because he looks like nobody but himself), or Bod, is taken in and brought up by the ghostly denizens of a graveyard after a democratic consensus of opinions (for even the dead are entitled to their views). Bod is given the “freedom of the graveyard", and he is safe for as long as he remains within its borders. There follows a relative period of peace and quiet for the likeable youngster, who grows up under the loving eye of his foster parents Mr. and Mrs. Owens (a kindly couple who never had kids of their own), and the stern tutelage of his guardian Silas (a mysterious character who is neither a ghost nor a human, and is probably a vampire, even though Gaiman doesn’t explicitly say so).

It is ironic that while Bod is raised by the dead, it is the living whom he should fear most. And so the story progresses to the inevitable showdown, with many nail-biting moments in between, as Jack is determined to finish the job he botched up years ago.

The weakest part of the book concerns the Why? It is never really made clear why Bod’s life is in such danger and why he is being hunted down not just by one, but a whole ancient Order of Jacks. We are only told that Jack was sent to kill Bod because it was foretold that if the child survived, it would mean the end of the Order. It is never explained what the order is, what it does or what it stands for.

However, that bit of vagueness doesn’t make TGB any less enjoyable. It is a strangely comforting, heartwarming tale about life and death, love and loss, as Bod makes his way in an unfriendly world that at times surprises with the kindness of strangers. In a book peopled by the dead walking and talking, the underlying message is that Life Triumphs. This is a dark and delicious tale, which hits the spot like a bar of smooth, bittersweet chocolate.

TGB was the last book I read last year, and the first book I re-read this year. Now, panda-eyed from one too many late nights reading under the bed covers by torchlight, I am making a nuisance of myself by pestering everyone I know and telling them they have to read it too. Go beg, borrow or buy a copy!

What and Where:
The Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman
S$18.90/Borders (also available at other major bookshops)



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