on a laptop keyboard: a
most wonderful sound.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the second Neil Gaiman book I have read. The first was American Gods. I approached this book with a little trepidation, because I didn’t enjoy American Gods as much as I had hoped that I would. My main gripe with the novel was that I didn’t particularly care about what happened to any of the characters, which made finishing the book more of a chore than it should have been.
My experience of The Graveyard Book was completely different. I absolutely loved this book. I’m not sure why there was such a difference between my experiences, because I am not sure that it was purely because The Graveyard Book is a children’s book and American Gods is not. Whatever the reason, this book had me captivated from the very first line.
The Graveyard Book is not structured like a traditional novel. Rather, each chapter reads like its own short story which exists within itself (in that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end) but where each builds upon the previous stories to reach an exciting climax. This suits the tale perfectly, as it allows for the story to progress in such a way that the reader receives only the most important and relevant information without having to sludge through filler content. The structure remains true to the story, and that, I feel, is important.
The language is also a joy to read. Obviously being aimed at younger readers, it is perhaps less sophisticated than novels aimed at older readers, but it doesn’t feel patronizing as some children’s books can. Rather, it gives the reader the information they need in an organic and clear way.
A gripe I often have with novels is when authors leave plotlines unfinished, or loose ends untied. While I shall not spoil any part of the plot, there is a mystery in this book which is left unanswered. This, however, is handled differently than such things have been in other books (The Ghost of the Mary Celeste comes to mind). As the book is written in limited third person, and Bod, the protagonist, never finds out the answer to the mystery, it makes sense that the reader doesn’t find out the answer either. What’s more, the Bod’s being restricted from discovering the answer to the mystery serves to develop one of the secondary characters, and a somewhat lukewarm character development structure was one of the things that had me rather bored with American Gods. That being said, the final chapter in this tome will rip your heart right out.
Speaking of gory imagery, this book deals with dark subject matters. At least, matters which we in our contemporary society consider dark. The majority of the book is set in a graveyard (surprisingly) and references to unfortunate and often sticky ends are rife. This kind of darkness is reminiscent of Darren Shan’s books, which I absolutely loved when I read them as a teenager and still adore now. The setting of the graveyard is described in such a clever way: minor characters are introduced with their dates of birth and death and with the sentence on their gravestone, which not only builds information on the characters but about the world itself and how Bod perceives and interacts with that world. Gaiman also skillfully weaves cultural and traditional attitudes towards death and burial throughout, as well as portraying societal shifts over hundreds (and thousands) of years.
This was one of the best books I have read in months. I think I’ll even keep my copy.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have wanted to read this book for a very long time, and it was definitely worth the wait. The prose reads like poetry, and the short sections (around 10 pages each) make it easy to pick up and put down for when you don’t have very long to read.
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science, not just chemistry, and those with an interest in art. One aspect of this book which pleasantly surprised me was the wealth of anecdotes relating to the art world – how various elements are used in the creation of different colours for paintings and other forms of physical artwork. This bridging of the gap between the arts and the sciences is a welcome sentiment in a world where the two are often understood to be mutually exclusive. It is for this very reason that I was disappointed by the allusion to the sciences being the true ‘home’ of intellect and in this way superior to the humanities with regards to Lavoisier’s change in discipline. This sentiment is given in passing, but can still promote a problematic message if not read critically.
I have learned quite a lot from this book, and I feel that I may return to it in the future for reference. The information is delivered in such a way that it is easy to understand even for those with little formal chemistry training, but this is not a book which only teaches its reader about the science behind the chemical elements. The elements pervade our culture and our history, and in this book, Aldersey-Williams artfully demonstrates how our perceptions and uses of the elements have shaped our interactions with them.
I immensely enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it. It certainly deserves the praise plastered over its front and back covers.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
One of the reviews on the back of this book declared it to have the ‘instinct of a slam poet’. I can honestly say that this sentiment has it right on the money. I watch a lot of slam poetry and the style of prose of this book and the way it conveys its message – and, indeed, the message conveyed itself – is not unfamiliar in that way.
I would divide the plot of Home Boy into three parts: the set-up/backstory, the Event, the fallout. The first part lasts for around 100 pages and is very difficult to read. It is slow and not much actually happens, and for me this was a chore to read. The Event is undoubtedly the most exciting and engaging part of the plot. Not only is it where the most seems to actually happen, but it is where the message of the book is most clearly conveyed. If any part of this book showed a slam poet’s instinct, it is this second part. During the third part, I often found myself wondering how these new developments were related to the second part. Occasionally, flashes of clarity would reveal the links being made to previous events of the novel, but in between these flashes lies little more than confusion and the slowness present in the first part.
That being said, I would recommend this book purely on the strengths of the Event – not just because of the events of the plot itself, but for the clever ways in which these events are relayed to the reader.
On the whole, I would not read this book again, but I am glad that I have read it once.