Featuring a bright, confident girl caught up in a nightmare only a child could have, Neil Gaiman’s playfully frightening Coraline is a delight. A fairy tale a la the Brothers Grimm for the modern age, the 2009 novella strikes a perfect note, a wonderful little story of a clever and brave girl ringing true after the past page is turned.
Moving to a new home brings big changes to Coraline’s life. But she’s ready for it. Her new apartment only part of a larger mansion, she introduces herself to the retired actresses who live next door, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, and the elderly man who claims to be training a mouse circus upstairs, Mr. Bobo. On the advice of these eccentric but kindly neighbors, she sets about exploring the mansion’s grounds and corridors. Coming upon a mysterious door that opens into a brick wall, her mother’s explanation (that it is just a way to separate the flats) can’t scratch the itch. And so one day while her father is at work and her mother is off grocery shopping, Coraline snatches the key to investigate the wall a little closer. What she finds sucks her into a world that is eerily similar to her own, but the more she investigates, the less it is.
Coraline is raspberry on dark chocolate. Though Gaiman writes in a playfully lyrical tone, the young girl’s adventures have an edge of fright to them. Her conversations with the cat, the mouse circus, the disembodied hand, the thing that goes bump in the basement—and all the other elements of classic fairy tale and horror, including dabs of Alice in Wonderland, Roald Dahl, and The Secret Garden, work despite how cliché it may seem at the outset. Simply put, it is impossible for the reader not to fall in love with Coraline.
A story for all ages, Coraline is an archetypal portal fantasy that probes the darker places in the psyche. The childish fear of being abandoned by one’s parents the underlying motivator, the story nevertheless plays itself out in classic, well thought-out form. I could go on gushing about how lovingly twisted the novella is, but I think the reader has the gist…