The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring….
In Coraline’s family’s new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.
The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.
Only it’s different.
At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.
Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.
Neil Gaiman is a strange author to me in some ways. I love his scripts, and his Sandman graphic novels, and those of his other books that I’ve read. But I haven’t read that many of them — and I don’t exactly know why. So when I saw Coraline at my local second-hand bookstore, I snapped it up. (The cover above is the cover of the version I own. There are prettier covers, but it does capture the weirdness pretty well.)
And no, I haven’t seen the movie either. Although now I kind of want to.
I don’t read a lot of middle grade fiction yet. But this has got to be one of the best, surely.
I love Neil Gaiman’s wry humour. It’s — dare I say it — terribly British. I love how clever Coraline is, and how even when she’s scared she manages to be brave. As she said, “When you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.” Wise little girl.
Apparently Gaiman wrote this book for his five-year-old daughter. So either his daughter is also very brave or he’s trying to give her lots of opportunities to learn, because this is a scary-ass book. At the point where Coraline’s other mother offered to sew button eyes onto her as a mark of her acceptance into their creepy family, my own eyes bugged out a little.
There weren’t any plot twists I didn’t see coming. But this is middle grade fiction, which means the twists tend to be a little more clearly telegraphed than they would be in a book for adults. Nothing wrong with that.
There was one thing lacking from the book. Gaiman didn’t often touch on how Coraline was feeling. When she first discovered her parents were missing, it took her a full 24 hours to cry about it. This is partly because her parents are a little remote and she’s used to fending for herself, but I think it was partly a stylistic choice Gaiman made — not to wallow, or let Coraline wallow, in her emotions. Maybe he did it because the content of the story is nightmare-inducing, and if he’d described the taste of fear in the back of her throat, the shaking of her hands, it suddenly wouldn’t have been middle grade anymore?
Or maybe that’s just his style. Like I said, I haven’t read that many of his books. (Stardust was quite similar in that regard, now that I think about it.) Either way, although I noticed the lack of emotion, the extra distance that imposed wasn’t enough that I couldn’t follow or enjoy the story.
If you’re looking for a creepy Halloween read, then I’d suggest Coraline. Who needs to sleep, anyway?
Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who would love to write books half as creepy as Coraline. It’s good to have goals!