Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

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Coraline (2006) by Neil Gaiman

Creepy. This book is creepy: wonderfully, richly so. In many ways Gaiman has turned the ‘child as other’ archetype on its head with Coraline, giving the protagonist the full run of the story to demonstrate her bravery, values, cunning, and imagination in a world that is at best uninterested and at worst predatory towards her, depending which side of the mysterious old door she is on.
Gaiman utilises the scariest of scary tactics in this story, putting Coraline into a world which is almost but not quite the same as her own. She must rescue her real parents from a strange spider-like creature with buttons for eyes who calls herself Coraline’s ‘other mother’. In order to find her parents and the souls of three other children trapped in the strange world, Coraline starts a game with the ‘other mother’. As Coraline plays the game she encounters an array of unsettling characters that at first mirror the people and creatures in her own world before dissolving into strange, empty shells controlled by the ‘other mother’. The more time Coraline spends in the strange world and the more successful she is in the game the more it changes and dissolves, the ‘other mother’ breaking the rules, shamelessly cheating, and trying to trap her. It all turns out all right in the end but only just, and not with a rather unsettling ending that leaves one wondering if she really has defeated the ‘other mother’ after all…
I saw the stop-motion movie of Coraline long before I knew it was a book, but now own an adorable little hardback copy. I would not let a child read the book or watch the movie; it gave me nightmares. Also, as I was reading it I noticed many parallels with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland which is now next on my reading list so I can compare the two more in depth.

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