Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Review - Neil Gaiman's Coraline

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Published by: Subterranean Press
Publication Date: August 4th, 2002
Format: Hardcover, 151 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)
Coraline Jones is bored. It's the summer holidays and she is now trapped indoors by the unseasonal damp and rain. Her parents are both too preoccupied to see to her entertainment. Her father suggests she explore their new home. Once a grand house, the Jones' have half of the second floor. There is even a door that goes into the other half of the house. A door that is very firmly bricked up until it's not. When Coraline goes through this door she finds a mirror world of garish colors and eccentric people made odder by this "otherness." Everyone in the house has an "other." Everyone but Coraline. Her Other Mother has been waiting for her to come. Her eyes made of buttons hungrily awaiting the arrival of her daughter. She is solicitous, and loving, and would never desert Coraline for work. Coraline quickly realizes that this is not a place she wishes to stay. Yet her Other Mother has plans for Coraline's permanent residence in her world. If Coraline won't stay, she'll make her stay.

I first read Coraline what feels like years ago... oh wait, that's because it was. The simplicity of the tale and the evil of the Other Mother captured me in a way that good storytelling does. After the movie I was almost resistant to re-read it. The movie took the simplicity of the book and made it muddled and colorful and Disney. And above all else, NOT BRITISH. Sure, they tried to appease me with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, but too little too late. The visuals might have been wonderful, but it lacked the impact of the book. Aside from moving the story to the West Coast of the United States, the movie felt obliged, in typical movie fashion, to add a little sidekick for Coraline with Wybie. All these superfluous visuals and characters took away from the core story and made it more about spectacle. When I picked up the book again, all these negative feelings about the film kept barging in on my reading. At first I couldn't separate the two and it made me resent to film. Like how, sometimes, now when you're reading Harry Potter you can't help but picture Daniel Radcliffe, the film was tainting my reading.

Thankfully the book's storytelling was able to overcome my reservations. Neil Gaiman has a way with his "children's" stories that leaves a mark that I never felt with his "adult" books. The way the Other Mother's world is made and how it starts to unravel. The sheer horror of something as simple as a button. The way in which a typical narrative device of trying to trick the villain into playing a game is reinvented with the child's realization that the adult will cheat. This feeling of something older and more evil that the Other Mother is a part of coupled with her previous victims, makes this a quick and satisfying read. Far more satisfying than the movie. Last but not least, there's an awesome cat, that right there would sell the book even if it lacked everything else.


It's funny how movies do that (I totally agree about the Daniel Radcliffe point).
I also agree with you about the Neil Gaiman point, it does "leave a mark," and I've never felt that with his adult books. In my opinion, his YA work is much more well rounded.
Great reminded about the button, too. It does take an artistic talent to take the ordinary and make it scary (and/or extraordinary).
I've just finished Coraline, myself, and wrote a post at, stop on by if you have the time.

I find it interesting how much you felt the book mirrored (haha) Through the Looking Glass, which I didn't really think of at the time, but can see.

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