This is one of the books I've been feeling guilty about for the last few years.
"Porquoi?" I hear you ask in French, because French is cool and sophisticated. "Why feel guilty about such a fantastic book? Zut alors!"
Well, I shall tell you why, my sophisticated French friends: because I hadn't read it. And not in one of those it's-a-classic-and-it's-probably-good-for-me-but-I-just-can't-bring-myself-to-pick-it-up kinds of ways (hello, War and Peace). I genuinely wanted to read it but, for one reason or another, I just hadn't gotten around to it.
Not necessarily a reason to feel guilty, I hear you say. These things happen. Can't have read every book ever written, after all.
True, but here's the thing: I'm pretty sure I told people I had read it. I lied about it, in the way others lie about reading Tolstoy when, of course, very few people actually have. I've passed myself off as a huge Neil Gaiman fan, when the only book I'd previously read of his was Fortunately, The Milk - a fabulous tale, but fairly short and aimed at readers much younger than myself. I was basing my fandom on the fact that I'd read one of his children's books, watched Stardust and seen a few YouTube clips of interviews with him. I was a fake.
Well, not anymore. About a month ago I gave myself a week off from writing and working and rushing madly about, and gave myself over to my neglected library. I did nothing but read books, and one of the first ones I grabbed was The Graveyard Book.
It was wonderful. It was creepy and comforting at the same time. It was familiar and strange. It was exactly the book I'd have chosen to read on a dark winter's day with the wind rattling at the window and a cup of tea in my hand.
The Graveyard Book follows the adventures of a young boy called Nobody Owens - Bod, to his friends - who is adopted by a fright of ghosts when he wanders into their cemetery as a baby with a killer on his tail. Bod learns many things from his ghoulish family - how to Fade and Haunt, and about how witches were treated in the middle ages - but he must also learn how to be a living, human boy as he grows up and starts to wonder about his shadowy past and his uncertain future outside the graveyard gates.
I know, right? Graveyards and killers and orphans and ghosts - brilliant, and Gaiman puts them all to good work. The thing I love most about this book, though, is the fact that it isn't flashy. That could have something to do with the fact that Gaiman's vampires don't twinkle, but I think it's more down to his characterisation and tone. Yes, this is a fantasy tale, but everyone in it is so comfortingly ordinary. Bod's adoptive ghost parents are practical people, doing their best to raise their son right. Bod's guardian, Silas, is sensible and calm, with just a tiny taste of fierceness thrown in to hint at his bloody extra-curricular activities. Bod himself is immensely likeable, not because he goes on exciting adventures, but because he reacts to them in such a relatable way. He gets grumpy, he acts smartly, he takes himself off to a quiet corner of the graveyard to think things over. He doesn't have a magic wand or rocket boots to get him out of trouble - he has to think his way out. Bod is sensitive, clever and brave. Yes, I liked him a lot.
And the ending? So bittersweet. I won't tell you what happens, but there's no cute, neat ending from Mr Gaiman. If you're a big sap like I am, you'll want the Kleenex handy.
There's a lovely feeling that you get sometimes at the end of a book - a catch between wanting more and being completely satisfied. I got that with this one. Thank you, Neil Gaiman. I look forward to getting around to your other books.
Your number one fan.