I’ve been visiting Highgate cemetery a lot lately and listening to this book after long days in the cold, so I decided it was time for it to feature as this month’s putting the ‘fun’ in funeral entry.
Neil Gaiman’s wonderful novel captures something of the dignified decay of old cemeteries perfectly. The mystery and beauty and atmosphere really come to life in the pages of this book. The cemetery is peopled with vivid characters; the homely Owens family who become parents to a little lost living boy they call ‘Nobody’, the enigmatic Silas, the feisty witch Liza Hempstock, and the community of dead souls who form a ‘population of discarnate spirits, revenants and suchlike wights’ (Josiah Worthington Bart. Chapter One).
Originally inspired by visiting a local graveyard with his small son and completed with encouragement from his daughters, The Graveyard Book is one of those rare children’s books, loved by parents and kids alike. The title is inspired by Kipling’s The Jungle Book and it is perfect for reading out loud (as Neil himself proves), but has also been hugely popular with adult fans of Gaiman’s work.
Although Abney Park was the main inspiration for his graveyard, Gaiman visited also Highgate when writing the book and was given a tour by Audrey Niffenegger, he admits that quite a lot of Highgate made it into the later chapters of the book, and I agree. It’s not just references of the Egyptian walk or the overgrown parts of the graveyard, but the spirit of the place. But the more times I read the book, the more of the other influences I can see, all wrapped in a fond and sympathetic view of cemeteries, an appreciation their beauty and value. This is a great interview about the book, graveyards and why children shouldn’t be afraid of them.
You can also listen to Neil read the whole book, chapter by chapter online for FREE. It’s one of my favourite things to listen to after a stressful day, I’m on chapter 4 (for at least the fifth time) again at the moment…