I was introduced to Neil Gaiman by a university friend back in the 90s, and really enjoyed his Sandman series of graphic novels. While most of the details of the plot have slipped from my mind, the feeling of being transported away to a world of magic, wonder, and adventure has stayed with me.
I hadn't read anything by Gaiman for a few years, but the other day I came across a copy of his children's novel The Graveyard Book in the local library, and thought it was about time to pay a visit to one of Gaiman's intricately crafted worlds. I am glad that I did.
It tells the story of Nobody Owens, a young boy who finds himself in a cemetery being raised by a community of ghosts, who all have something to teach him. It was a good read, written in classic Gaiman style. Much of what Gaiman writes follows a similar pattern, he uses elements of magic and the supernatural, a main character thrust into a world they do not really understand, plus a large amount of historical real-world research to give realism. It is a good mix, and even though the book is quite similar in general ways to Neverwhere and American Gods, it is such a pleasure to spend time in Gaiman's worlds that I don't really mind.
While some people find graveyards creepy, I grew up right next to one, and could look out the front window to see the rows upon rows of graves. Unlike the graveyard in Gaiman's book, which is no longer being used for new burials, the one across from my childhood home was, and is, still growing, so as the years passed gradually the number of graves grew. I didn't really think much about it at the time, but it was a good reminder that death is always on the march.
From time to time I've wandered among graveyards elsewhere, in Australia and in Japan. Gaiman made a good choice setting his story in an old graveyard, as they always seem to have more character. I remember wandering among a hilltop cemetery in an abandoned mining town, and visiting the grave of some of the first members of my family to come to Australia in the mid-19th century.
I've visited the Yokohama foreigner's cemetery too, which holds the remains of people from all over the world, who came to these shores and never left. After just finishing The Graveyard Book, I can't help but wonder what type of community might exist among the ghosts of those people, visitors, teachers, sailors, prisoners of war, and others who found themselves interred on that quiet hill in Yokohama. I can imagine the mixture of languages and views, those who came to love the land they made their home, and those who were bought here as slaves and never found their way home again.
I've been to Japanese cemeteries too. Cemeteries are almost always quiet, peaceful places, and I don't think that the dead really mind people coming by. In Japan cemeteries are generally located near Buddhist temples, and last year when I was in a bad way I was working nearby an old temple. I would often go there on breaks, and the quietness helped me to get through another day.
It has been a little while since I've visited a cemetery, and perhaps it would do me good to visit one again. It has been years since my visit to the Yokohama foreigners' cemetery, perhaps I should drop by again, and see if the residents have anything to teach me.