Friday, January 18, 2013

In which I feel badly for not loving The Graveyard Book

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
--Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book this week. A while back, my book club read Stardust and most everyone loved it. I liked it, pretty much. I couldn’t tell you a thing about it now, only that it brought to mind A Midsummer Night’s Dream—weren’t there fairies and such? Oh, and a wall. I remember that.

It’s something to do with my attention span, I think. I start to zone out if someone is telling me about their information technology job, or the many steps required to make perfect spaghetti sauce, or really anything, I guess, that doesn’t interest me. As I writer, I can certainly appreciate the imagination and planning it takes to create an entire world; other worlds just don’t call to me. I’m completely obsessed and preoccupied with this one.

So it’s my shortcoming, I fully acknowledge this. I have an easier time with fantasy in films (special effects help a lot), but it’s not as though I’ve NEVER appreciated a novel with other-worldly elements. I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I like time-traveling in books (The Time-Traveler’s Wife—an all-time favorite), and I recently read Observatory Mansions, which is set in a “normal” world but everyone is crazy so it felt like another world. It’s just, most of the time, I don’t read fantasy. I never seem to care about what’s happening; it doesn’t hold my attention.

Why did I bother, then? Well, my oldest son is reading The Graveyard Book for school and I thought it would be nice to read along with him. Besides, everyone’s read this book and everyone LOVES it. Eyes glaze over when you mention it; people press hands to hearts. Certainly, I believed, this would be one I’d like.

Fast forward, day one.

Son: “How far along are you in the book? I’m on page 30.”
Me (reading on Kindle): “I’m at 25%.”
Son: “I have no idea what’s going on.”
Me: “Me either, but let’s stick with it.”

Next day…

Me: “How’s the book coming along?”
Son: “I’m on page 40.”
Me: “Ten pages?”
Son: “I just don’t get it. What’s the point? They’re in a cave or something.”
Me: “There are just people who are dead, ghosts.”
Son: “I know but what are they doing?”
Me: “It doesn't matter. Have you gotten to the part with the girl?”
Son: “No.”
Me: “Don’t they go to the cave together?”
Son: “Mom! Don’t spoil it.”

Apparently, this son inherited my imagination deficiency. But, I finished the book and I will say, I warmed to it. That is to say, I was able to pay attention for longer periods. Mr. Gaiman doesn’t need my support; the world knows he’s a fabulous writer. There was a broad cast of almost Dickensian characters and moments of cheeky humor. I appreciated that. And I did find myself wanting to find out why what had happened had happened. But I never did feel like these were real people and I suppose, in general, that’s the element that makes fiction linger, at least with me. And I trust Mr. Gaiman and his millions of fans couldn’t care less about what I think.  


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka