Posts Tagged ‘Alive in Necropolis’

The Graveyard Book. Neil Gaiman. Harper-Collins. New York. 2008. 242 pg.

Alive in Necropolis. Doug Dorst. Penguin. New York. 2008. 437 pg.

Waiting for Gertrude. A Graveyard Gothic. Bill Richardson. St. Martin’s Press. 2001. 184 pg.

In celebration of Halloween, last month I decided to read books set in graveyards. I have already reviewed A Fine and Private Place. Alas, after an election that also felt like a cemetery tour, it’s taken me a while to get to reviewing these other three. Perhaps, in reading these books you may see prototypes of our current elected officials. That’s for you to decide.TheGraveyardBook_Hardcover_1218248432

The Graveyard Book, is a young adult (YA) book which follows a living human raised by the dead in a graveyard. Winner of the 2009 Newbery Award honoring the best American children’s book it joins such heady companions from my youth as Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It ‘s a strong book, full of strange ghosts, malevolent pursuers and powerful protectors. Definitely a classic battle between good and evil.

2439336Alive in Necropolis follows a similar theme of a living person (in this case a cop) who can see the dead. This guy’s a beat patrolman for the city of Colma, CA, aka “ The City of Souls,” the true town in San Mateo which 1400 of the quick call home, as well as about 1.5 million who have gone on, and now rest in one of Colma’s 16 cemeteries. Again, it’s the good guy and helpful spirits vs. the bad ghosts who beat up or “root out” any spirit they’ve tired of.

Waiting for Gertrude is set in Paris’ famed Pere-Lachaise cemetery, a picaresque community of characters from the past: Moliere, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas, Oscar Wilde and Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt and Marcel Proust among other luminaries. In this case they have all been “translated” (re-incarnated) as cats. Some remain true to their original “calling” (e.g. Maria Callas, once a diva, always a diva) while others have taken on new roles: laundress, private investigator, tour guide. Central to the cast is Alice B. Toklas who has translated into a caterer of note (Hashish plays a spicy part in her most treasured recipes.) Alice is waiting, waiting, waiting for her beloved Gertrude (Stein) to translate. The cats—most of the females pregnant—are preparing for a Renaissance Revue to be held at midnight on Christmas Eve at the Columbarium Theatre. Against this backdrop, treasures have gone missing, and Marcel Proust, resident PI, has been retained to find them.352381

The Graveyard Book assumes a reader of previous deep immersion in the fantasy genre and thus able to recognize that various characters represent certain types of fantasy inhabitants. So while I read the book quite happily I completely missed most of the metaphoricals; for example there were werewolves. I didn’t realize that until, after reading the book, I read other reviews. I do this frequently after reading a book only to discover I’ve read too shallowly. Still, it does come as a put-down when I missed the symbolism in a YA book! So for all you fantasy fans, I think you’re going to love this book.

Alive in Necropolis skips the symbolism (I think) and goes for ghosts who did exist but perhaps were never household names, like Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a San Francisco heiress and patron of firemen, Lincoln Beachey, stunt aviator, and Ishi, last of the Yahi Indians, as well as bad guys like Doc Barker, bank robber. The extant policeman, Michael Mercer, replaces a cop who, it appears, died of fright although it is termed a heart attack, patrolling Colma and its 16 cemeteries. Mercer’s enlisted to aid the good ghosts in eliminating the bad ghosts even as he works on a crime among the living, the torture and abandonment of a teenager in one of the columbarium vaults. He also tries to deal with his erratic loves and life (He’s not called “Boy Thirteen” for nothing) and a partner who, rebuffed by a circus performer, turns to Zen for comfort. I think everything came to a close at the end. I doubt anyone lived happily ever but there were so many sub-plots and twists I lost count. Still, some were sufficiently interesting to keep me reading the book until its conclusion and a semi-messy ending is the stuff of life. So as a mock noir spoof, Necropolis, rates a read. FYI, it’s got a boatload of foul language, drinking, drugs and casual sex.

Last and definitely winner of the “most throwing caution to the winds” award, is Waiting for Gertrude. Filled with puns, double entendres and just plain hilarious situations it was both the best and the worst of the lot. If you are more than willing to suspend disbelief (is that a definition of fantasy?), this is definitely a book worth spending a rainy Oregon winter afternoon with. Told in letters, meeting minutes, notes, and musings, a little bit of Gertrude goes a long way. Rather than try to disentangle the plot, here are a few quotes from Alice B. Toklas which will give you the flavor:

“After my life on two legs ended and before my life on four began, there was long stretch of stasis…an endless novel whose pages bore only one word: Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. And then, without warning, the word was made flash.”

and lamenting the loss of the transformed Rossini, who became somewhat dotty as an ancient cat:

“I will miss him…the cubist nature of his conversations and his easy way with non sequiturs. ‘It all comes down to noodles,’ he might say, when the talk was about weather or rheumatism.”

All in all, a ribald romp, full of dazzling language and innuendo.

After this intensive, I think there is a reason why few novels are set in graveyards. They require too much infrastructure and supporting information to move along easily, as is illustrated by all these books in one way or another. In each the author has chosen a different backstory and approach. I would recommend all three, although none, in my opinion, matches Peter S. Beagle’s 1960 original, A Fine and Private Place.

At least they may provide amusement through the next Congressional session should you need even more than it’s bound to offer.

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