Book Review – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was recommended to me by a friend. It is not a book I would have picked up on my own because of its fantasy elements and the fact that it is YA but I found myself sucked into the world created by Mr. Gaiman.

The characters in the book were very well written. I sympathized and loved the graveyard inhabitants, I respected Silas and Bod was innocently charming. He was very likeable and I liked that he was depicted in a way that would be expected of someone raised in such a somber environment. He always had an air of maturity around him when I read him and he sounded very intellectual. He thirsted for knowledge and his speech reflected that he was raised by people centuries old; people from different times. I also liked his ever constant calm and I would like to think that was the Silas Bod had in him.

Silas was by far my favorite character. I fell in love with him immediately and as Bod angered and hurt him, my feelings for Bod changed. I cared too much for Silas and his disturbance was a greater evil than anything found in the book. And when I found myself reacting to Bod and Silas, I realized how much the book had touched me. I was reacting to them and I liked it because that meant they were well written enough and real enough that they warranted my reaction.

The man Jack is someone that I initially liked but as I saw his character develop I stopped caring about him. He became too human. And I did not like that. I imagined him and hoped he would be another Silas – stoic and wonderfully aloof. But he wasn’t and that was disappointing. Towards the end of the book, the man Jack ceased to affect me as a character.

The setting was vividly described. I could smell and feel everything Bod felt. The trees and the apples, the decrepit chapel and the crypts. It had the spooky element when needed and it felt real and genuine. Likewise, it had a domestic and cheerful element to it when needed. I liked the descriptions of the town and although I understand why the settings changed – for character development – it annoyed me. Particularly because the other settings seemed to be cut and pasted into place. It seemed awkward, even forced at times, and it frustrated me. I wanted to get on with Bod’s story without the side adventures and change of settings but I know they were necessary for it so I took it as a required evil I had to endure.

The plot was obvious at times and forgotten at others. I did not know if there was going to be closure concerning the man Jack because so much of the book is Bod’s explorations and adventures. I assumed it would have to be dealt with because it is YA and he is the ‘bad guy’ but I wondered at times. I also liked the development of the characters around Bod that helped with the plot advancement.

I appreciated that there was more than one conflict in the book. Because this is a coming of age book, I liked that it showed sub-conflicts in accordance with Bod’s center; e.g. Silas, his parents, his own curiosity with the outside and forbidden. It kept the story from reading too perfectly – Bod is after all human.

The resolution was terribly anti-climactic concerning what I identify as the main plotline. The conclusion of the book as a whole is perfectly melancholy and makes me react to it. I liked that. The conclusion to Bod’s battle was indifferent at best – I was more interested in the battles taking place elsewhere, with Silas – but that also might be because I did not quite like or care about the man Jack by the time I got to that part of the story. The ending was not happy and for that I am grateful. It was right. I think that’s what saved the conclusion for me.

Overall not a bad book but wanting. I went in expecting more than I got but it is YA. This is not my genre and I find most YA that I like leaving me wanting. So good in that I would have liked more substance but a bit not good in that I fear it would have read like it was cut and pasted without an attempt to making it blend and flow.

Neil Gaiman is an exquisite writer. It reads like a beautiful melody in segments but as a whole it seemed to stumble, especially with the side episodes. I believe the entire book could have done without chapter six. That was the most infuriating section of the book for me. The chapter dragged and, in my opinion, it was purposeless filler.

The one memorable thing that I cannot forget of this book is Silas. He makes the entire book worthwhile for me and it is because of him that I do not dislike the book. To dislike the book would be a betrayal to him.


The Reading Tortie


Book Review – All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy was recommended to me by a good friend. I was not very excited to pick up the book since it is a western story and a romance to boot, but I told him I would read it and read it I did. And boy, was it an enjoyable ride! I didn’t expect it to be horrible, it’s a book by Mr. McCarthy. But I did not expect to fall in love with it so much.

The characters of the story are extremely well written and well rounded. The cast we follow are all very human and relatable. None of them really plays the super hero and there are no real extraordinary acts that make one character stronger or more powerful than the other. They have their flaws within the universe of the book but outside of that, I don’t see anything wrong with any of them. They are all normal people trying to live the one life they have and true to form, life insists on throwing their plans awry. Their way of life and reasoning behind their actions is very honest and despite the fact that there is nothing finite to any of the characters – most are left with beautiful open ends – there is a realism there that I truly love and respect. It is exquisitely done; nothing is bland and boring but colored and flavored with all of the beauties and woes of life.

I have a deep love-hate relationship with the old west and stories of the like. I won’t pick any of those books up by choice, I avoid them like the plague for an unknown reason, I just know I won’t like it. But then I pick up a story set in the old west and I fall madly in love with the setting and lifestyle. The setting is ancient and wild and at the same time modern and forward looking. The juxtaposition of the wild with the increasingly modern world is very well done and it’s almost heart breaking to see the end of the way of life that John Grady is so desperate to keep alive. There was a kind of feral quality to the mountains and rivers whispering through the land that is quickly cut off when they pass through a village or sit in a café. The depiction of the towns was mouth wateringly accurate. I felt my heart swell when John Grady entered those villages because I felt like I was there too. They were painfully real and vivid. Mr. McCarthy does not paint a flat canvas but dynamic and interactive place where the children misbehave and the people are tired and trying to make ends meet. Extremely well done.

There is and is not a whole lot of plot, in my opinion. The most identifiable plot is the romance between Alejandra and John Grady but it comes almost as an afterthought in the best way possible. The story does not force itself to read like a western trying to be a romance or vice versa. It is very true to itself and at the end of the day it is the tale of a boy trying to find his place in a world he feels extremely disconnected from. This is as much a romance between a boy and a girl as it is between a boy and the land. I feel like the actual plot of the entire story is around John Grady and his love for a dying way of life.

The descriptions of the land, the country, and the horses sound so romantic and so desperate, I feel the heart break as the modern world encroaches on that volatile way of life. I think because the book reads so realistically, the plot is simple but multidimensional. There is a lot going on all of the time and it is all just as important because it shapes the character throughout the book.

The most obvious conflict, like plot, is the conflict between Alejandra and John Grady and I think the climax of that conflict was extremely appropriate and realistic. There are many different conflicts – some greater than others – but none so overwhelmingly overdone that it takes precedence over everything else. Like everything else in the book, it is realistic and grounded. It is a conflict – nothing more, nothing less – and it is somehow resolved. It might not be completely satisfactory but it its resolved and life continues. There is no issue that grossly overtakes the main character, although some issues are more important than others, they are not overly dramatized and I appreciate the fine moderation.

The ending of the book was extremely satisfying. It was neither good nor bad; happy nor sad. Like everything else in the book it is realistic, moderate and almost too perfect in itself. There was no other possible ending that would have fit quite as perfectly and I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to the story.

In all honesty, I loved this book. It was the perfect mix of dialogue and description to give the story a haunting feel. Everything in the story seemed so precise and measured, it feels as if Mr. McCarthy tinkered away at every single sentence until the perfect diction was decided and set with great precision.

The description of the food is something else I’d like to mention. There was something magical in the description of the food – I could smell and taste what they ate. When they drank water out of a tin cup, I could feel it against my tongue and lips as they drank. The cold beans and tortillas were so tangible, I could almost smell them coming off the page. The descriptions of the food and the country are what stuck to me the most.

Overall, a fantastic book with haunting and breathtaking descriptions. I would recommend this book to anyone that wanted to read a great book about an average Joe trying to make sense of and find his place in the crazy world he was born into.


The Reading Tortie