Coraline Review – Canadian Press

“Children’s novel Coraline likened to Alice in Wonderland, Narnia Chronicles”; Canadian Press; July 30, 2002.

If the ghoulish cover art _ a host of shadowy hands clutching and grasping at a startled little girl _ doesn’t set the tone for the children’s novel Coraline the following endorsement from the book’s Web site will:

WARNING: This book tells a fascinating and disturbing story that frightened me nearly to death. Unless you want to find yourself hiding under your bed with your thumb in your mouth, trembling with fear and making terrible noises, I suggest you step very slowly away from this book and go find another source of amusement, such as investigating an unsolved crime or making a small animal out of yarn.”

That, of course, is high praise from Lemony Snicket, author of the wildly popular Series of Unfortunate Events novels and the current master of deliciously disturbing children’s fare. With the arrival of Coraline Jones, the genre has a new heroine.

Coraline, the first children’s novel from author Neil Gaiman, reveals the story of a bored little girl on summer vacation whose parents are too busy to entertain her.

Other residents of the house in which their new flat is located offer little prospect of long-term amusement: The Misses Forcible and Spink, portly retired actresses who live for their various Highland terriers and their memories of the stage; old Mr. Bobo in the apartment under the eaves who claims to be training a mouse circus to play oompah oompah” (they insist on playing toodle oodle,” possibly because they are eating the wrong type of cheese).

To relieve her boredom, Coraline begins exploring the new apartment and discovers a door that appears to lead nowhere. When Coraline’s mother opens it with the large old rusty key hung from the kitchen door frame, all Coraline sees is a wall of bricks. Later, when Coraline finds herself alone in the house and investigates further, she opens the door to find a mirror-image apartment inhabited by her other parents.”

Initially, the new world looks inviting. Her other parents lavish Coraline with attention. Meals are far superior. The colour scheme is brighter. Animals speak. And the Misses Spink and Forcible _ young and svelte _ put on death-defying shows on a continuous basis for an appreciative audience of dogs.

But even from the start, there are troubling signs. The apartment on the other side of the door smells of something very old and very slow.” And the other parents both sport shining black buttons where their eyes should be. Sitting on a dish on the kitchen table is a spool of black thread, a long needle and two large black buttons for Coraline.

Having entered the mirror image world, Coraline finds it is not so easy to escape the clingy clutches of her Other Mother, who gradually begins to drop the pretence of benevolence. The little girl returns to her real apartment, only to find her true parents missing.

Eventually she realizes she must return and confront the Other Mother, to best her in a test of wills, in order to restore her world’s order.

Coraline is already on the New York Times’s best-seller list of children’s chapter books, and it’s easy to see why. Gaiman, already a cult figure among comic book readers for his Sandman series, uses his well-honed skills as a spinner of dark fantasy tales to chilling effect here. Illustrations by Dave McKean _ Gaiman’s long-time collaborator _ effectively paint a spooky world in which a bag of squirming beetles is considered a delicious snack.

Reviews have likened Coraline to the children’s classics Alice in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia, with which it shares the theme of passing from the ordinary to the extraordinary via seemingly innocent portals.

However, Coraline is much darker than Alice, where the Queen’s threats are ignored by all. The better analogy is perhaps to The Magician’s Nephew, the first book (chronologically) in the Narnia series, where the cruel Jadis _ on whom the Other Mother might be based _ wreaks evil for its own sake.

Coraline is aimed at children eight and older, though it may be disturbing for some so young. But for those who have reached the point where they revel in a scary tale, Coraline won’t disappoint.