|Robb's Rambling Reviews
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good horror novel. But Neil Gaiman’s Coraline made me want to cover all my mirrors and sleep with the lights on. Gaiman builds his story around an eclectic bunch of characters including our heroine, Coraline, a duo of retired actresses, loving parents, talking cats, singing rats, souls of children trapped behind mirrors, and a sinister presence known as the Other Mother. See? Creepy doesn’t begin to describe the story. Coraline, an inquisitive, headstrong, and intelligent youngster, makes a few bad decisions and sets the story’s plot into motion. As she struggles to rectify the situation, she enlists the help of this unlikely group as they appear on both sides of a hidden doorway in her new home. Gaiman’s masterful craftsmanship of these characters, both major and minor, sets his novel far ahead of most others in this genre. He creates unbelievable characters who are actually believable, characters who are at the same time unique and ordinary, caring and frightening, eccentric and conventional. No easy task, but Gaiman makes it seem like child’s play.
As if the characters weren’t creepy enough, Gaiman sets his tale in a cavernous labyrinth of an old British home, complete with overgrown gardens, creepy cellars, empty apartments, and doors that go nowhere. When Coraline questions her mother about going into the flat next door, her mother replies “Not unless you can walk through brick, dear.” Foreshadowing if I ever saw it! Not only is the new home disturbing, but it come furnished with backward writing mirrors, skeleton keys, and furniture in varying flats which look extremely similar to her own. See? I told you…creepy!
As if the setting and characters weren’t hair-raising enough, Gaiman’s use of dialogue serves to keep the creepiness flowing. "You know, Caroline,” said Miss Spink, “you are in terrible danger.” Not something I’d say to the average kiddo a few days after she moves in next door. Did I mention there were dead children, trapped behind mirrors, asking for help? “She stole our hearts” says one lost soul to Coraline, “and she stole our souls, and she took our lives away, and she left us here, and she forgot about us in the dark.” You’re right, not creepy at all. Then there was Coraline’s conversation with the sinister presence known as the Other Mother, “Does she have a grave?” asked Coraline. “Oh, yes,” said the other mother. “I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.” Yup, just pure joy and sunshine!
I knew from the first page of Coraline that I was in for a treat. I love anything British, and when I heard the house had been broken into flats, and not apartments, I knew there was a gothic horror waiting for me. I wasn’t disappointed! Rarely have I read such short a novel with such complete characters, setting, and plot. Shelley and Stoker have nothing over on Gaiman. With all his horrific characters and action, he does actually make a great point about right versus wrong, though. Coraline, like so many other literary characters her age, doesn’t realize how good she has it until it’s gone. She doesn’t have to fall down a rabbit hole, or get whisked away by a tornado, but she learns her lesson nonetheless. I liked that. Not to preachy, not to adult yelling at kids, just a lot of good clean creepiness and a dash of the human condition. This is one of those books that you turn over, hoping there’s a sequel. Actually, I’m glad there isn’t. Gaiman wraps Coraline up so well, that a sequel would ruin the actual story. But don’t fear, I can’t wait to read another one of his books. Need a hand in finding one? Ask the Other Mother, her severed hand is crawling down the side of your screen. ;)
Coraline is good, clean fun. Scary at times, adventurous as times, didactic at times, but always entertaining. Gaiman goes to great lengths to create memorable characters who make the unbelievable seem believable, settings as creepy as any Alfred Hitchcock movie, and dialogue that takes the text from scary to downright terrifying. If you’re in the mood for a good fright, look no further, Coraline’s your girl.
Citation: Gaiman, N. (2002). Coraline. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.