Sunday, April 4, 2010

CBRII Book 17: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

I actually read this book before I learned that it had been chosen for the Pajiba book club (I'd added it to my 'to read' pile based on the review by of one Admin's precocious rugbats). Because so many people will be reading this book, I'm wondering if I even need to outline the plot.

Ah, fuck it. It's The Jungle Book, set in a graveyard. Like the title says.

The ITGeek is a gamer. Actually, he's a gamer in the same way that many people are breathers. Gamers generally come in two breeds - the computer, and the console. When we first met, he was a computer gamer. This required a 'rig' (there's a lingo, people) that, I shit you not, looked like something a 1970's Stanley Kubrick had imagined a computer would look in the year 2000. The side was clear perspex, so you could see all the glowing green tubes that ran from one component to the other. I soon discovered this was the water cooling system and they were lit by UV. That's right, he had a fucking ultraviolet computer system. And the games he played on that thing were works of art.  But within two years, his overclocked monstrosity was obsolete, its chugging memory sapping the life from the characters, turning the work of art into a flicker book. Eventually he swapped the computer for a PlayStation 3.

I've decided that the machine has a huge effect on the game itself.   That's not to say that one system is more likely to produce an amazing game than the other (despite what the different camps claim.  Loudly.  Constantly.  Never read over a gamer's shoulder when they're surfing a gaming forum, it'll make your head hurt).  Just that when it's done right, it's always due to the creators, their self-control (in the case of the rigs) or their ability to recognise the limitations and their ingenuity in overcoming them (in the case of the consoles).

Why am I babbling about games when I'm supposed to be reviewing a book? Because I think authors and game creators have a lot in common. There are console authors and computer authors. I've decided that Neil Gaiman is an example of an excellent console author, and The Graveyard Book is a brilliant console book.

I don't think he would be offended by me saying this (at least, I really hope not). I think he touched on this himself, in one of the Sandman comics, only he wasn't nearly as clumsy as I have been. It's been a long time since I've read it, but instead of consoles and computers, Gaiman's analogy was Rome and China, how the Romans spread too far and fell, while the Chinese created the Great Wall and prospered within. Regardless, give this man boundaries, and he'll broaden your horizons.

Gaiman's console, in this case, is another authors work. The writing is simple, it is a children's book, after all. So simple that you don't notice just how dark and twisted it really is. It's like a nursery rhyme that sounds sweet, until you realise it's actually about the Queen of England torturing and executing people. You also don't notice just how much research he must have done. The characters were born hundreds, even thousands of years ago, meaning this book is set in the past as much as the modern day, filled with throw-away lines like Silas correcting Bod with 'it's aren't, not amn't'.

It's a book about shades. The Shades of the graveyard and the shades between Black and White, Good and Evil. The Jacks wear a disguise of benevolence ('Three kidney machines!'). The Honour Guard are creatures from our nightmares. Bod himself is muted, even before he learns the tricks of ghosts, wearing just a grey sheet for the first half of the book. He regards the living world with the same distance as his dead guardians, even when he forgoes the safety of invisibility to defend them. He's remote, an echo of Silas, who inhabits both the worlds of both living and dead, but belongs to neither.

Yes, it's a children's book, but one their parents could happily read to them.  I'm at the age when my friends are all dropping crotch fruit, so I need to know about books like this one.    I'm also interested in what other people think of this book.  

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