“Now, if you’re willing for a bit more of a scare, we’ll have you try Coraline next! “
I admit I chuckled a little (though not in a mean way, I promise!) because I had actually read Coraline already. Most of all though, I agreed with her. Because Coraline is SCARY for a children’s book. But also really really good.
Coraline is about a girl called Coraline who lives in a large house which she shared with her parents and a couple of other inhabitants who all have their own quirky characteristics. This gives the story a very comfortable feel at first, but things are about to turn a lot darker. Coraline, bored when her parents and the other inhabitants have no time for her, starts counting the properties of the house, the windows, and later the doors. One of these doors is a mysterious one. At first it appears to be blocked by a wall of bricks, but soon it offers Coraline a secret passage into a strange world. On the other side of the door lies a world that is an inverted image of her own world. There, Coraline finds two people very much like her parents, except that they have buttons for eyes. Everything seems perfect and a lot more suited for Coraline’s enjoyment, until her “other mother” starts to want sewing in buttons for Coraline’s eyes as well..
[semi-spoilers from here on out]
There are a lot of elements that make this book work as a scary story. There’s the deceiving comfort of the first scenes and later of the mirror-world, there’s the progression of comfort to less-than-comfortable things which results in Coraline re-appreciating her “original” home life. There’s the element of the alternate parents that turn our to be wicked, and who are exactly so uncomfortable to the reader because they present themselves as intimately acquainted with Coraline from the start on little to no basis (that we know of). There’s the hints towards the evil fairy tale witch who locks away children and finds her ultimate calling in the “taking” of a life like that. There are the trap doors and chasings, and strange liminal worlds, and there are the “surprise!” elements (although the latter were perhaps the things I liked least, but I can see it working very well for younger readers).
However, what made this book truly fascinating and decidedly creepy for me were the hints towards a loss-of-identity narrative. I think it is not accidental that when Coraline enters inverted reality she goes through a liminal space in the sense of the hallway. And then, when she enters the other-world, everything in it is very similar to her “real” life, but something is constantly off. It leaves the reader puzzled for a while (how come people in this other-world actually get Coraline’s name right instead of the endless correction that she’s not Caroline that she has to make in her actual house?), are we supposed to think of this new world as the “real” one? Towards the end though, it becomes clear that it is not, and with that comes the threat of Coraline losing her real self if she stays there any longer. Worse yet, the evil might follow her into her “real” life.
Neil Gaiman does a stellar job in giving the reader a very unsettling story. I admit that after reading it I was glad I had not read it before. Had I read this as a child I think I might not have slept for a week. Then again, I am very easily scared.
Now it is time to try the movie version. But I admit, I am a little hesitant. I trust that this story works really well visually, as the drawings by Dave McKean that are part of the book already at another dimension of creepy to the story – but that’s just it. What if it works too well and I actually lie awake at night?
I read Coraline by Neil Gaiman for R.I.P. VII as hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings, even if I am a little late in posting about it. Click over to the RIP Review Site for more reads with a autumnal feel.
Other Opinions: without wanting to look lazy, I am going to direct you to the Book Blog Search Engine as there are truly too many posts about this book to count!