Friday, January 12, 2018

January's Book: Coraline

More pop culture to open 2018! I swear, I'll read another academic history book soon. This is just too fun.


Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Fantasy (2002 – 163 pp.)

Coraline is a fun, is-it-for-children-or-isn’t-it book that also, probably coincidentally, ended up being Neil Gaiman’s follow-up to the lauded American Gods (2001). The closest comparison for Coraline thematically is either of Lewis Carroll’s classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass, or the oft-cited Chronicles of Narnia comparison. Coraline has fewer characters, settings and plots.

Coraline Jones and her family have moved into a new house, but it contains a portal to a not-so-nice reflection of her world.

Although there are two mothers and two fathers, we only ever see them in their own worlds, connected, of course, by a door in Coraline’s house that only she ever opens. In her family’s new house, the normal side of the door is exactly as one would expect. The other side is one where everyone has buttons for eyes and the other mother wants Coraline to stay forever – with the small details that Coraline will have buttons sewn onto her own eyes and will never see her normal parents again.

Although Coraline is written in third person, the story focuses entirely on Coraline. Her movements, curiosities, emotions and foibles dominate the story to the point that the only times we hear from anyone else are when they speak directly to her. The other mother, who controls the evil make-believe world behind the door, is only evil because Coraline tells us she’s evil. The other father, who at first instance appears to be an accomplice of the other mother, turns out to be another captive when he tells Coraline that. The other world only exists as the other mother requires it to exist in order to ensnare Coraline: “There isn’t anywhere else. This is all she made: the house, the grounds, and the people in the house. She made it and she waited.” (71)

The other house is a bizarre place. Dogs eat chocolate there, (44) even though this is a horrible idea in real life. The cat that trails Coraline in the real world talks in the other world, and becomes a sort of guardian figure for her.  The other house flattens "like a photograph" and Coraline needs the ever-sensing cat to warn her. (124) Coraline embarrassedly eats the breakfast the other mother has made for her, (93) showing that the setting has some control as in the iconic feast scene in Pan's Labyrinth.  Coraline is always the most comfortable when the other mother has a location; when Coraline doesn't know where the other mother is, that's when the other mother's scariest. (95)

Then there's one of my favourite quotations from the whole book, one that calls to mind everything from the scariest Saw scene to Black Mirror's idea of seeing your own fears: “...mirrors are never to be trusted.” (77) It's literal - the other mother - and figurative - Coraline doesn't know what to think of herself after all this.

I enjoyed Coraline, but this was one of those rare cases when the book isn’t as good as the movie. The vivid imagery Gaiman uses fit the 3D glasses era of the movie’s 2009 release perfectly, starting with the sewing needle flying at the viewers’ eyes during the opening credits. The mouse circus also doesn’t conjure up the movie’s grandeur. Coraline succeeds as a story. Gaiman’s images don’t sink into the mind as well in print as they do on the screen, is all.

Fun bonus: Is this one of the few books that can rightfully assume a genre label of Children’s Horror?

Ease of Reading: 10
Educational Content: 1

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