BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Neil Gaiman
Harper Collins, 2002
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Neil Gaiman has a real knack for macabre young adult fiction. His characters are fleshed out and idosyncratic, his settings unique and vivid, and his plotting and pacing pitch perfect. This is the second of his novels I’ve read in two weeks, and this description holds true for both. They both won Hugos amongst other awards as well, so I’m not alone in thinking this.
Though it isn’t a direct adaptation like The Graveyard Book is, Coraline is a wonderful amalgamation of Alice in Wonderland and Hansel and Gretel with a substantial amount of creative originality stirred in. It is a short and marvelous story that at times channels Tim Burton and Roald Dahl, and at times surpasses them.
Coraline Jones has just moved with her parents to a creepy old house in the country. The building is divided into flats, with two eccentric biddies and their scottie dog living in one other apartment and a bizarre foreigner who converses with mice living in the attic. A black tabby prowles the gothic old garden outside. Coraline soon grows bored in this new places, and her parents are two preoccupied to entertain her, so she takes to exploring. She soon finds a curious little door in the parlor. Yet once she finds they key and opens the small door, she finds it only hides a brick wall.
That night she is awakened and enticed by a shadow back to the little door, and this time she finds behind it a passageway, which she enters. On the other side Coraline finds herself in what looks like the exact same house and the exact same room. Yet things are not exactly the same, they are slightly twisted and off. She soon meets her “Other Mother” and “Other Father,” who are exactly like her real parents except they are more attentive to her. And they have buttons sewed into where their eyes should be.
They give her nice things and delicious food, and as she explores this strange place she meets other “Others” and sees exciting and wonderful things. Coraline befriends the black tabby who has also wandered into the Other Mother’s world, and who can speak (or at least can be understood by Coraline) in this realm. Yet despite all the strange and wonderful things, a noticeable grotesqueness permeates the world. When the Other Mother asks Coraline to stay with her forever while offering two buttons and a threaded needle, Coraline realizes just how sinister and dangerous a place she has stumbled upon.
The Other Mother kidnaps Coraline’s real parents and imprisons them somewhere secret, and so Coraline and her feline companion set out on an adventure to rescue her missing parents as well as free the souls of three children who have previously fallen prey to the Other Mother in her wicked trap.
This book is short, but makes up for this with an exciting and imaginative story. As with The Graveyard Book, the characters are all finely crafted and a pleasure to read, and the setting is even more finely rendered. This book also gets a bit darker than most YA (sewing up eyes, for instance), which I appreciate. I’d recommend this book to any fan of young adult or macabre fiction, and for anyone who read and enjoyed The Graveyard Book, picking this up should be a no-brainer.
Also, the recent animated film was pretty entertaining and a great adaptation, though I could do without the 3D gimmickry.