Coraline

This year, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline won the Hugo for Best Novella and the Locus for Best Young Adult Novel. Having already written novels, stories, screenplays, poems, and comic books, he decided to tackle a children’s novel. It’s a very creepy children’s novel– and it’s very, very good.


Title: Coraline

Author: Neil Gaiman

with illustrations by David McKean.

Original Publication Date: July 2, 2002

ISBN: 0-380-97778-8

0-380-80734-3 (paperback)

Buy from: Amazon.com (hardcover) or Amazon.com (softcover)
or Amazon.ca
(hardcover) or Amazon.ca
(softcover)

Cover Price (hardcover): $11.19 U.S./$20.39 Canadian
(paperback): $5.99 U.S./$8.99 Canadian

Premise:

A little girl, frustrated with her mundane existence, walks through a mysterious door and into an alternate version of her house, where things are more than slightly askew. Her grotesque “other” mother who lives there has buttons for eyes, and wants to sew similar ones onto Coraline and keep the child there forever. And that’s just the start; this mysterious woman has far more monstrous secrets. She has kidnapped Coraline’s parents, and her closet contains the souls of other lost children who have fallen into her spidery clutches.

With the help of a talking cat, Coraline must outwit one of the most diabolical villains in the history of children’s literature.

High Points:

I like the fact that Gaiman doesn’t soften the book too much, despite his audience. Coraline faces a seductively deceptive and ultimately very nasty adversary. Most Disney villains would recoil from this creature in horror. A particularly clever young girl, however, proves more than her equal. This fact will obviously appeal to children.

The protagonist of many a children’s book has a whimsical sidekick to help out. Gaiman has given Coraline a talking cat who retains the essential nature of the animal. Tiny things get pounced upon; a rat gets decapitated. And when the going gets tough, kitty starts eyeing the exits.

Low Points:

These aren’t so much criticisms as warnings to diverse audiences. This is a children’s book. The mysteries have to be solvable by young readers, and consequently the clues will seem a trifle obvious to older ones.

Not every parent will find this suitable for their wee ones. Gaiman wrote Coraline for his children; doubtless they loved it. Doubtless other, older children will, too. But, for a young person’s book, Coraline is surprisingly macabre and frightening.

The Scores

Originality: 5/6 The notion of passing through a common object– a looking-glass, say, or a wardrobe– has been used many times before. What we find on the other side here is, however, highly inventive.

Story: 6/6 While I don’t share Diana Wynne Jones’ opinion that this book will replace Alice in Wonderland, Coraline ranks among the best children’s books I’ve read. It recalls Roald Dahl– and in this case, I consider Gaiman the superior writer.

Characterization: 5/6 Gaiman has created a heroine as memorable as Alice and Dorothy, and she’s more resourceful.

Imagery: 6/6 Never mind the children; the fate of the villain’s creations and the plottings of her severed hand will haunt any number of adult readers.

Emotional Response: 5/6.

Editing: 6/6.

Overall Score: 6/6.

In total, Coraline receives 39/42

Additional Notes and Cheap Shots:

Most readers will recognize the kind of evil which Coraline encounters. Obviously, the real world contains people who, say, promise children Neverland and then take what is most precious to them.

8 replies on “Coraline

  1. GrimSean says:

    Small Problem
    Shouldn’t that read 39/40? Either way, it’s still sitting on my ‘to be ordered’ list for reading during my Christmas break.

    Also, the fewer Michael references the better – I can’t believe how far he’s fallen since the ’80s

    • GrimSean says:

      Re: Small Problem

      Shouldn’t that read 39/40? Either way, it’s still sitting on my ‘to be ordered’ list for reading during my Christmas break.

      errr…out of 42 I mean… stupid cold… making me not sleep and all out of it.

  2. y42 says:

    According to modern standards maybe
    But, for a young person’s book, Coraline is surprisingly macabre and
    frightening.

    Well, since the censoring of classic children’s story, maybe, but they
    used to be cautionary tales.

    Lil’ red riding hood and her grandma get eaten by a wolf, no magical
    hunters to mysteriously make everything ok (since when do wolves
    swallow people whole anyway?). That was a tale about not talking to
    strangers, someting all kids should be thaught, but it was bastardised as
    a tale where another stranger will come and make it all inexplicably ok in
    the end. I think if I ever have children, ol’ red bites it. I’d rather have my
    kids be sad about lil’ red than be kidnapped.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: According to modern standards maybe

      True, to some extent, but we’re used to the watered-down versions. Actually, many of the really “grim” fairy tales and their imitators were not specifically for children; they were simply tales which were told. The earliest account of Sleeping Beauty features rape and apparent cannibalism (we find out later the child-cooking hasn’t really happened). That version never appeared in a collection specifically for children. And even in the 19th century, many editions of the infamous Struwwelpeter, which was expressly written for children, were censored. But you’re quite right; some very strong stuff appears in traditional kids’ stories. Gaiman knows this, but not every parent would approve, and so I wanted to point this out.

      The math error has been corrected. Thanks. (I had changed my score at the last minute, but forgot to adjust the final. Stupid, I know).

      Yeah… So anyway…. Coraline…. Good book.

      • y42 says:

        Re: According to modern standards maybe

        Yeah… So anyway…. Coraline….
        Good book.

        Say, compared to American Gods?

        I liked AG, but didn’t think it was as great as I had been led to believe it
        was…

        • Timeshredder says:

          Re: According to modern standards maybe

          Say, compared to American Gods?

          Matter of opinion and taste, I guess. American Gods was my first review here, if that’s any guage of my opinions. I think I would rate it a little higher now, in retrospect.

  3. mbourgon says:

    My three friends who read it all said…
    this is NOT a children’s book. Maybe if you’re Manson’s child, but this was apparently pretty disturbing, even for 3 30-year-olds.

    • y42 says:

      Re: My three friends who read it all said…

      this is NOT a children’s book. Maybe if you’re Manson’s child, but this
      was apparently pretty disturbing, even for 3 30-year-olds.

      More disturbing than real life?

      I say let the kids confront disturbing issues in fiction, it’ll prepare them
      for the times when they’ll face those in real life.

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