It’s beautiful when everything comes together artfully in a book.  Sometimes a couple of elements are enough to catapult a book to publication.  It might have a driving plot and round characters but the writing is a little off.  Or, the writing could be gorgeous and the characters delightful but lack much of a plot.  I’ve read published books with both of these issues and still enjoyed them very much.  However, with Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, there just isn’t a real weakness.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is written in the third person.  Understandably, at the beginning of the book when the protagonist is an infant, the point of view is pulled back and feels a little bit omniscient.  As Bod grows up, the POV closes in on him and is much more intimate.  I think the lesson here is this: know whose story you’re telling.  In the first chapter, it’s the story of the graveyard.  Will they take in this orphaned child and what will it mean for the ghostly inhabitants?  But the rest of the book is, without a doubt, Bod’s.  And thus the author focuses on him.

Also adding to the flavor of the book is a tinge of the British vernacular.  Scarlett lives in a flat.  Sometimes the ghosts refer to Bod as Master Bod.  I know this seems like a given, since I’ve already mentioned that this is an ancient British cemetery (Also, full disclosure, the author was born in England and now lives in the United states…so maybe he does this cool vernacular thing without thinking about it).  It is extremely, extremely common for an amateur author, (ah-hem…me), to try to set something in England or the deep south or an urban neighborhood and then forget to add that flavor to the narrating.  Furthermore, when I went back through the book and opened it to a random page , I got through three pages before I hit a word that could be considered culture-specific.  So, the lesson I learned here?  A little bit of vocabulary goes a long way.

Another thing I learned from THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is how to sneak in description without dragging down the pace.  Mr. Gaiman slips it around action.  He uses it to draw out tension.  Rich, textured description in this context never feels boring.  In one scene, Bod hears an angry ghost looking for him.  Before the ghost finds Bod, the author chooses to insert a description of the weather and location.  This does two things: it gives the reader a sense of the passage of time (in this case, a few minutes) and raises the tension leading to the confrontation between Bod and the angry ghost.  From this short passage, I learned that sometimes it isn’t just knowing what to say, but where to place it.

Here’s another interesting tidbit: I had to look pretty hard to find a full paragraph of description.  Most of the descriptions were single sentences or even just phrases.  He gets his point across quick.  He uses an economy of words and he trusts the reader’s imagination to do the rest.

I could go on and on about THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, but I think I’m going to move on in my next deconstruction which will be FEED by M.T. Anderson.  It’s a complete change of direction and another great book.

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