Since I (finally) got around to reading Neverwhere earlier in the year, nearly five years after it was first recommended to me, I have become rather a Neil Gaiman fangirl. I haven't been able to get enough of his gorgeously dark and twistedly imaginative world, and have been steadily working my way through his books and films. (I have not yet ventured into his graphic novels, not being one of "my" genres. Maybe a 2011 challenge is beginning to take shape?) Reading a Neil Gaiman book is something to be read slowly and savoured, really appreciated, not bolted down in the desperation of a chocoholic with nothing but a bar of Sainsbury's Basics chocolate. This is the real thing.
For a little while I told myself I was taking my time over The Graveyard Book for the same reason: to savour it and because it was the last main prose work left unread. After a couple of days off work, fidgetting and not reading The Graveyard Book I had to admit to myself that it wasn't grabbing me in the same way as Neverwhere and American Gods. I think the reason is that it takes a long time to get going. Gaiman conjures up a wonderful premise, setting and characters, but 100 pages in I still wasn't sure what the plot was. All I knew was a little boy's family had been murdered and he was being brought up by ghosts, occasionally wondering off and mixing with the wrong company - ghouls, and the ghosts of those buried in unconsecrated ground. I enjoyed the description - Gaiman is master of world-building, and whichever character the hero Bod is talking to makes you believe the book is set in the era of their life. The graveyard has always been there, and its mixture of inhabitants bring a mixture of specific eras (the Roman Empire, Medieval, Victorian...) and timelessness. Even the world outside the graveyard feels as though it is from another time. Avaricious junk-shop owner Abanazer Bolger comes straight out of Dickens' London, from his speech patterns, to his caricaturised greed and villainy, even his name.
The moment that I felt myself succumbing to Gaiman's spell was in chapter five: "Danse Macabre," where the living and the dead of the town come together in a dance of ancient tradition, a scene that is hypnotic and dreamlike. From that moment on I forgot my "savour it slowly" rule and could not get enough. I had to have more of this gorgeous storytelling. The relevance of the rather anecdotal first chapters became clear as the threads of plot, setting and character came together in a poignant and satisfying conclusion.