“When you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.”
Coraline is a horror/fantasy novella about the eponymous Coraline; an adventurous and curious young girl who stumbles upon a mysterious and terrifying other world through a locked door in her family’s flat. Coraline’s parents are kindly but busy people, who are much too preoccupied with work to entertain their inquisitive and exploratory daughter. She amuses herself by adventuring among the trees and flowers of her garden, but on a rainy day, with the garden off limits, Coraline decides to explore every nook and cranny of their flat. She discovers a door that when unlocked, has nothing but a solid brick wall behind it; however the next time Coraline opens it she finds that the wall has disappeared and has been replaced with a dark, foreboding tunnel. When she ventures inside the mysterious passage, she discovers a world on the other side very similar to her own, but with small, disturbing differences - for one, everyone has large, shiny black buttons in place of their eyes. With the help of a sardonic, talking black cat, when Coraline discovers that her ‘other mother’ has kidnapped her real parents, she must save them and free the ghosts of the previous children the ‘other mother’ has trapped in the other world. Can Coraline defeat this disturbing contortion of her parent before buttons are sewn onto Coraline’s own eyes, and she is trapped in the other world forever?
Coraline is a dark, creepy and imaginative children’s story; the horror elements are strong and some of the imagery is quite terrifying; particularly the emotionless, black button eyes. The prose is endearing; it reads like a modern day fairy tale, and is written in a simplistic manner in order to capture Coraline’s childish way of thinking and speaking. The narrative voice is not Coraline’s, but rather is a third person perspective; however we are only told about Coraline’s thoughts and feelings, so she is very much the focus. Coraline herself is a commendable protagonist: she is self-reliant, independent, adventurous and brave yet at the same time is frightened, doubtful, and unsure. Gaiman captures her youthful naiveté and fear with expertise.
And so we have it: after my disappointments with Stardust and The Graveyard Book, I have found a Gaiman novel that I love. Coraline is strange and scary, with a charming writing style, a persistent atmosphere of spookiness, and a host of entertaining sub-characters, such as Coraline’s eccentric neighbours. Coraline is a character to be admired and adored, and her ally - the talking cat - injects some humour into Coraline’s terrifying predicament. The story also has a lovely message about bravery and overcoming monsters - those of fairy-tales and real life:
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Much like The Graveyard Book is in numerous ways a macabre version of The Jungle Book, Coraline is a twisted, dark version of my childhood favourite Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Coraline is a delightfully dark story that adults will love as much as the children for whom it was written.
My other Neil Gaiman reviews: