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So One of Us Is Living - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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June 11th, 2009


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11:12 am - So One of Us Is Living
Only Neil Gaiman—or Roald Dahl—would begin a children's book by murdering the protagonist's entire family. Welcome to The Graveyard Book, ladies and gentlemen.

Nobody survives the brutal act committed in the first few pages. That is, Nobody survives. For Nobody is the protagonist! At least, that is what he is christened by his dead parents. No, not his actually dead parents, but the ghostly Mr. and Mrs. Owens, who adopt him. Nobody—Bod for short—grows up in a graveyard like Mowgli grew up in a jungle, if you catch my drift. His guardian, Silas, is not a ghost (but is not a living human either) and so can leave the graveyard to acquire food for the boy...and be on the lookout for the man Jack, who killed Bod's family and will not rest until he finishes his task.

I was halfway through the book when I realized that nothing had really happened for 150 pages. It's a good sign that I didn't notice and didn't care. The majority of the book is basically Nobody Has Wacky Adventures Growing Up in a Graveyard, and it works because of Gaiman's storytelling style. He has a very keen sense of audience, and he is intensely aware of A) what the reader should know, B) what the reader should not know, and C) what the reader should be able to figure out on his own. He creates a surprisingly cohesive mishmash of fantastical concepts while, of course, introducing an original creature or two. The book is almost like baby Neverwhere in the way it blurs the line between reality and fantasy, allowing that the two worlds coexist without much issue.

To my delight, the whole Jack Is Still Out There Waiting to Kill Bod plotline doesn't just get dropped but instead becomes kind of awesome...until it becomes kind of anticlimactic in typical Gaiman fashion, but this time, I let it go because the rest of the book was good enough to make up for it. There may have been a CAPSLOCK E-MAIL involved.

I enjoyed The Graveyard Book more than Coraline. I thought it was richer and the characters were more endearing and interesting. It felt like a world one would want to return to. I loved the way it treated life and death. Even though death is not The End, life is still to be treasured. But death is not to be feared, necessarily. There is one chapter that has one of the most creepily beautiful sequences I've ever read.

Appropriately, on the night I finished The Graveyard Book, I saw Up, which also makes you feel good about life and living it. After it rips your heart out, of course. The first fifteen minutes comprise an Oscar-worthy short in themselves. As with WALL-E, the Pixar team prove themselves to be masters of visual storytelling, able to be emotionally affecting with no dialogue at all, just images and implications.

The rest of the movie, the one the trailers promise, is about an old man and an Asian-American boy having wacky adventures in a flying house. And the plot itself is kind of silly and somewhat predictable, and there are fewer snappy lines and quirky characters than in, say, Finding Nemo, but, for me, the major strength of the movie is the same thing that's so strong about The Graveyard Book: what's left unsaid. In The Graveyard Book, Gaiman doesn't tell you everything about the world and how it works, and he doesn't tell you why the characters act and think how they do, but he trusts you to use your imagination and intuition. Up has an intangible Something where the script may never tell you what the themes and messages are, but the story does, both through what happens in general and little moments here and there that, again, usually require no dialogue to get their points across.

Both the book and movie have left me thinking about life, how long and short it is, and how best to make the most of it.
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Current Music: System of a Down - Spiders

(19 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:musesfool
Date:June 11th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I think I liked The Graveyard Book more than Coraline as well. There's something about it that's stuck with me in ways Coraline didn't.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 11th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
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It was a nice romp, but I think The Graveyard Book is more complex, and it's a hell of a lot darker. And I feel that it is more Relevant to My Interests since I tend to be sort of death-obsessed. The latest story idea I had begins with the main character's death.

Is that Death in your icon? *checks* It is.
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From:allsunday
Date:June 11th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
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Agreed, I really enjoyed The Graveyard Book. I think it was just a bit more grown-up than Coraline, so it was a little more complicated. I remember Coraline only took me a day to read, The Graveyard Book took about three, off and on.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 11th, 2009 07:46 pm (UTC)
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Look at you, back on LJ, leaving comments and shit.

The Graveyard Book is definitely more grown-up than Coraline. I mean, Bod grows up to be older than Coraline, so it has to be! Plus, murder.
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From:allsunday
Date:June 11th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC)
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PPFFFT, shut up. >_>;

Yes, murder! Delicious murder. ♥
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From:equustel
Date:June 11th, 2009 07:44 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for this review! A friend of mine also loved The Graveyard Book, and I'm thinking I should finally pick it up - especially considering that the last Gaiman book I read was Neverwhere. It's been awhile.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 11th, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)
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That was the first Gaiman I read! Have you read anything else since then? I just remembered I do have a Neil Gaiman tag, so I went back and tagged my other book reviews. I'd also recommend American Gods and Anansi Boys.
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From:tamarai
Date:June 11th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
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Man, you rock. I love how you articulate the value of the unsaid. 'Nough said.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 11th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
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I'm always impressed by that because it's a tricky thing to do right. When I write, I try to do it but I end up living in my head and leaving too much unsaid so what I'm trying to get across doesn't get across. But it's a great experience for a reader or viewer to be able to fill in the blanks; it makes us responsible for the story and puts us in it, in a way. I guess.
From:dotificus
Date:June 11th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
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I agree that TGB is a richer, deeper work than Coraline-- I think in part because Coraline is about a young girl finding her inner strength, whereas The Graveyard Book is a coming of age novel.

I was halfway through the book when I realized that nothing had really happened for 150 pages.

Huh! I thought plenty of cool stuff happened. But maybe I have a lower standard for what constitutes action? Or do you mean nothing had happened, Big-Overarching-Plot wise?

There is one chapter that has one of the most creepily beautiful sequences I've ever read.

do you mean the Dance Macabray chapter? If so, that was one of my favorites.

until it becomes kind of anticlimactic in typical Gaiman fashion Could you elaborate? Or should I go through your NG tag and read your earlier reviews?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 11th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
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Huh! I thought plenty of cool stuff happened. But maybe I have a lower standard for what constitutes action? Or do you mean nothing had happened, Big-Overarching-Plot wise?
The latter.

do you mean the Dance Macabray chapter? If so, that was one of my favorites.
Yep.

Could you elaborate? Or should I go through your NG tag and read your earlier reviews?
You could do that too! But I find that Gaiman doesn't usually go for the big bombastic climaxes I expect from such stories. He does great with the build, but the payoff isn't as huge as expected. It's like EVERYTHING'S EXPLODING EVERYWHERE HOW WILL WE STOP THIS...and then someone just flips a switch and everything's okay or something. For this book, what I am referring to is the reason Bod was a target in the first place, which, while perfectly sensical, was kind of lame and unoriginal. I always expect something more awesome than I get. Except in American Gods, where the anticlimax was perfect.
From:dotificus
Date:June 12th, 2009 02:23 am (UTC)
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"nothing had happened, Big-Overarching-Plot wise?
The latter."

So once you realized that, did it bother you at all? do you have a taste for episodic stories? Have you read The Jungle Book, which NG had loosely in mind when he wrote this? Will this comment of mine consist entirely of questions?

I ask because I've always loved episodic stories-- big fan of Edward Eager when I was a child, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my fave Narnia book. But nowsadays, episodic is very out of fashion.

It's like EVERYTHING'S EXPLODING EVERYWHERE HOW WILL WE STOP THIS...and then someone just flips a switch and everything's okay

So interesting! And insightful. I'd never noticed this, but think you're exactly right. Except I don't know about American Gods, because I disliked it and didn't finish it.

Thanks, you've given me food for thought re: my own work.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 12th, 2009 03:29 am (UTC)
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So once you realized that, did it bother you at all?
Not really, because I was enjoying it for what it was and I liked the characters and setting, and I trusted Gaiman to give me give me a Book by the end instead of just a collection of stories.

do you have a taste for episodic stories?
Maybe if that's what I'm expecting?

Have you read The Jungle Book, which NG had loosely in mind when he wrote this?
I haven't, but I want to now.

Will this comment of mine consist entirely of questions?
Quite possibly.

I ask because I've always loved episodic stories-- big fan of Edward Eager when I was a child, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my fave Narnia book.
I love Edward Eager!! Half-Magic was awesome.

So interesting! And insightful. I'd never noticed this, but think you're exactly right.
So it's not just me!

Except I don't know about American Gods, because I disliked it and didn't finish it.
Oooh, here's the thing about American Gods: it takes 400 pages to get really good, but the last 200 pages make the first 400 retroactively more awesome. Why did you dislike it? If you disliked it because you didn't think it was going anywhere...you're wrong.
From:dotificus
Date:June 13th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)

Why did you dislike it?

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It's been a while, but I remember thinking he was focussing on very fringe elements in America and depicting them as the essential USA. Like yeah, roadside stands are Americana, but they're a freaky teeny slice of America Pie. Also, I disliked his rendering of some of the gods, thinking "Odin would never do THAT. That is so not the All Father!"

(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:toastandtea
Date:June 12th, 2009 02:13 am (UTC)
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Well now i've gotta read The Graveyard Book. I had been interested in it (duh, Gaiman!) but hadn't seen enough recommendations to really feel motivated to pick it up. You sold me though.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 12th, 2009 02:18 am (UTC)
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Yes!! Man, I love selling people.
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From:punzerel
Date:June 12th, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
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I loved The Graveyard Book. Definitely liked it better than Coraline, too. That may also have had something to do with the characters in TGB, though, rather than the plot.

Up was so amazing. I want a movie about Ellie's adventures.

(edit: YAY FOR HALF-MAGIC!!)


Edited at 2009-06-12 01:49 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:maidofawesome
Date:June 12th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
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I can't think of anything exciting to say, but I loved TGB. I have yet to read anything by Gaiman that I DIDN'T love, though.

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