Coraline by Neil Gaiman

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I liked Stardust so much that I decided to continue reading Neil Gaiman on my Kindle. Next up was Coraline. This so called children’s book was quite different than Stardust! While Stardust had a certain sweetness to it, or at least a romantic element, Coraline is creepy and rather dark. Of course they both have their mythical and otherworldly elements as is typical of Gaiman. But creepiness has its attractions as well, and I found Coraline to be entertaining and enjoyable in its own unique way.

The story centers on the adventures of the title character Coraline as she explores her new home, a large old house split into apartments. Her parents are around but distracted by their lives and mostly just encourage Coraline to entertain herself. This leads to questions about a locked door that seems to lead nowhere. The door when opened by her mother reveals a brick wall. Her mom explains that it was bricked up when the house was divided into flats.

Coraline, however, is intrigued by the door and when her parents are away gets a hold of the keys and unlocks it only to find the bricks gone. Coraline bravely, or foolishly, decides to explore this mysterious opening. At the end of this darkened corridor she finds a duplicate set of parents who at first look very much like her own . But soon she finds that these parents are in fact fakes with button eyes and other unnerving characteristics. She makes it back to her real home only to find her parents have disappeared. She comes to the conclusion that they have been kidnapped by her other mom and she must return to the other side to save them. Her quest involves talking cats, trapped ghosts, a mouse circus, and a showdown with her evil other mother.

Gaiman masterfully weaves a story right out of our nightmares and yet one that doesn’t involve graphic violence. He creates a tone of the surreal that nevertheless has the feel of real menace. It feels all the more real because it seems like something you would actual dream about only to wake up drenched in sweat. It is like being trapped in a dark room of fun house mirrors where some of the images are real monsters.

There is something to the way he never really completely spells out the danger or its nature but relies on the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks. Isn’t this always the case? That our imagination increases the terror when we are left to guess at what is out there. In this way the terror involved is more psychological than physical: being forced to live in a false family possessed by a monster taking on the image of your mother – literally being trapped in a nightmare.

I am beginning to see why he has attracted such a large fan base. Gaiman is clearly a writer of many talents to be able to create both the love story/coming of age fairy tale like Stardust and the creepy nightmare that is Coraline. I plan to keep reading his other work as I am able.

Next up is Neverwhere, another story about disappearance. If you haven’t yet read Coraline and enjoy unusual and creepy stories, I recommend it.

Read the book before the movie comes out.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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