Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
Other worlds through cupboards and rabbit holes. Evil villains from the Queen of Hearts to The Wicked Witch of the West. The longing to go home. All of these things have become the checklist for a successful children’s story. Neil Gaiman knows this, he acknowledges where he got his inspiration from, but what he does is give us a new take on this classic form of story.
Coraline is a young, inquisitive girl who lives in a building of flats with her mother and father. One day she finds a door, when she opens the door and goes inside she finds another world, a world parallel to her own. But things in the other world become much sinister than she expected.
Gaiman has the taste and flare of a great dark writers. With a nod to Roald Dahl and Edward Gory and Frank Barum, Gaiman has taken something seemingly unoriginal and made it so. He gathers this mainly from his dark, creepy prose which reflect the classic literature that we all know and love: “it was a very old house – it had an attic under the roof and a cellar under the ground and an overgrown garden with huge old trees in it.”
The voice Gaiman produces through the novel is what makes Coraline a children’s book that can be appreciated by anyone of any age. Gaiman doesn’t patronise the child readers, he talks to them as if he sharing a story with them, informing them of a wicked, dark thing that happened to a friend of his. He trusts his readers, understands that children enjoy harrowing, even gruesome stories but what makes Coraline so spectacular, what makes it less like Gaiman is giving them gory details to make them happy, is the way it is written, it is the simplicity of its form. He writes: “she picked Coraline up and pushed her into the dim space between the mirror. A fragment of beetle was sticking to her lower lip, and there was no expression at all in her black-button eyes.” It’s simple fantasy horror – much like the prose of Hans Christian Anderson or the Grimm Brothers. For the adult readers you have a fresh look at the ‘there and back again’ type story with bizarre characters and grotesque ideas.
Above all, what makes Coraline a book that will stand with other classics upon the shelves of the book shops is the sheer fact that Gaiman is a literary writer – he understands the genre he steps into, he understands the books around him and understands how to tell an old, classic tale in a new manner.
Coraline is a dark, grotesque novel and reaches out to anyone who dares turn its pages. Gaiman has created a phenomenal book that takes no prisoners but allows you to sit back, put your feet up and enjoy. When finished – you will never look at buttons in the same way again!