Thursday, September 9, 2010 02:27 PM
Book Report - A Neil Gaiman Library Book Roundup
 by Fëanor

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish
This is an exceedingly silly and fun children's book, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by his co-conspirator from way back, Dave McKean. It's about... well, the title's pretty self-explanatory, actually. A young boy wants his friend's two goldfish, so he offers to swap something for them. When his buddy will accept nothing else, he offers his Dad. The friend agrees. But when Mom gets home, she disagrees quite strongly, and off the boy has to go to undo the swap. Unfortunately, a number of other swaps have gone on in the meantime, so it takes a while for him to work his way back up the chain to his Dad. I really enjoy the very matter-of-fact way the book approaches the quite ridiculous events that take place. Not everybody can write effectively from the perspective of a child, but Gaiman does it here. It's a wonderful little book, and even though the Dad in it doesn't seem like the best Dad ever, he's still rather lovable in his own way, and it's nice when he gets settled back on his couch with his paper again.

The Graveyard Book
(There are some spoilers in here, I'm afraid, especially in the last paragraph. You've been warned.)

I had a hard time getting into this book. I read the opening and then put it down for a few weeks, unsure if I'd ever finish it. Maybe the part about a little baby's entirely family getting murdered, and him toddling off alone to live in a graveyard and be raised by ghosts and a vampire upset me a bit. (This is supposed to be a children's book, right??) But eventually I decided to give it another shot, and by the time I got to the chapter about the ghoul-gate - a sequence that's scary and imaginative and funny and Lovecraftian all at once - I was really and truly hooked. It doesn't happen that often when I'm reading other people's books, but for some reason pretty often when I'm reading Neil Gaiman's books, I finish a passage and become so filled with envious rage that I hurl curses at Mr. Gaiman. Obviously this book is no exception. I believe it happened after I read the first page, actually, and again later when I read the subtle, deft, and deeply moving way he handled the evolution of the relationship between Nobody and Miss Lupescu. I don't know what it is about Gaiman in particular that makes me react this way. Maybe it's because he writes the kinds of books I wish I could write - clever and funny and fantastical and wise and sad and revelatory. Anyway, I hate him and love him for it.

This book is a coming-of-age story about a boy who grows up side by side with death, with the threat of death hanging over him all the while, and by the end realizes it's finally time for him to live. A friend of mine has pointed out to me in the past that a lot of Gaiman's stories have very similar plots, so I couldn't help but be hyper-aware of the various similarities between this book, American Gods, and Sandman. The meeting of the Jacks of All Trades reminded me of Sandman's serial killer convention, for example. But the fact that the main character turns out to have super powers, is in conflict with a secret and ancient society of evil, and is the object of a prophecy - well, that's not even a Gaiman cliche, that's just a cliche. Still, it's a cliche I like, and one Gaiman handles well. Besides, there's enough freshness and creativity here that it doesn't really matter if some other parts are a bit dusty. Gaiman includes a vampire, a werewolf, and a mummy in the book, but treats them in very different ways than such creatures are usually treated. I don't believe the word "vampire" appears in the book at all; the werewolf considers herself a Hound of God; and the mummy has wings and carries a lucky pig.

The mark of a great writer isn't so much what he says, but what he doesn't say, and Gaiman proves that here. Besides his obvious facility for showing and not telling, he leaves out details about his characters and their world in a manner that's intriguing and effective. The epic final battle between good and evil, for instance, happens almost entirely off-stage. We never really find out what the Honor Guard is all about, and who exactly they guard - apart from Nobody, of course. Silas - his past, his powers - is pretty much a complete mystery. And of course, we know nothing about Bod's future. This is the story of him growing up; what he finds when he goes out into the world and starts living his life is unknown. On the one hand, I'd rather like to read a sequel to this book where we learn what becomes of him. But on the other hand, I'd almost rather be left with that final image of him, walking out of the gates of the graveyard and into his bright future, with anything and everything ahead of him. It's bitter and sweet and lovely. Just as bitter, but also very realistic and very right, is the fact that Bod doesn't end up living happily ever after with the girl he befriended when they were both little children. When they meet again after all those years, you start thinking, "Of course, they were made for each other!" But despite all the death and magic in it, this is a book about real life - the beautiful and lovely parts, and also the parts that hurt like hell. Which is why it hurts and is beautiful in equal measure.
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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