”There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife… The man Jack paused on the landing. With his left hand he pulled a large white handkerchief from the pocket of his black coat, and with it he wiped off the knife and his gloved right hand which had been holding it; then he put the handkerchief away. The hunt was almost over.” ( Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book)

What a truly sinister, insinuating opening! This writing has a disturbingly comic ‘pulse’ to it and this pulse carries us, however reluctantly, along the corridors and rooms of this house, with Jack, the cruelly efficient( so he thinks) killer of a family we are only introduced to when dead. There is a terrible exuberance to this opening and all the students I have read this text with, have immediately bought the novel and loved it!

From an educational point of view too, and writing as an English tutor, this opening excitingly demonstrates to students the powerful effects of juxtaposition and shows readers how to create tension without heavy handedness. The playfulness of the combination of ‘hand’ ‘darkness’ and then ‘knife’ provided several lively debates about the different connotations of each word, and how the meaning of the opening would be substantially changed if say the word ‘knife’ became something like a ‘fork’ or ‘flower’ or even ‘toy.’ We questioned shifts in our expectations by these slight substitutions and this also lead helpfully to considerations about genre.

The emphasis on the ‘man’ Jack, alerts us to his terrible aliveness in a landscape he has made violently dead! The repetition of ‘man’ ironically and subtly reminds us that this book’s title may be leading us, very much elsewhere- to the graveyard!

How cleverly too the inhumanity of the ‘man’ Jack, is intensified in the description of the knife’s actions as being almost independent of the hand that wields it. Metonymy is a disturbing tool for creating a feeling of alienation as Dickens knew so very well. How we separate ourselves from our actions and feelings through this type of physical disassociation, blaming other things, other people and seeking to evade the weighty presence of responsibility. Metonymy gives us permission to be other than ourselves…

I am thrilled to read this book so far. It has a fertility of imagination that is darkly joyous and wittily terrifying. Little wonder that I had to read A Christmas Carol again alongside it. They compliment each other and seem to stroll about the other’s narrative with grotesque ease!