February 22, 2018


Gaiman's Coraline 

By Josh Buchin


An Almost-Fireside Evening with Neil Gaiman:
A review of his new book Coraline

is the newest book by author Neil Gaiman, and, like all his work, it tells a disturbing story of an off-kilter world thatís just familiar enough to be unsettling.

It is the tale of a young girl named Coraline who lives in a big boring house, or at least, what she thinks is a big boring house. When she stumbles into a locked room that leads to an alternate dimension of sorts, she quickly finds out that things are far from boring. This other part of the house is filled with excitement; toys are alive, the parents that inhabit this strange world are kind to her (more so then her real parents); cats talk and rats sing. Itís a perfect - albeit extremely twisted - world and Coraline is quite happy there - until she returns home and finds that her real parents have disappeared and that the mysterious dwellers of the other part of the house are responsible. It is up to Coraline to save them and to stop the evil lurking in her house.

Coraline is a groundbreaking work for Gaiman because it is the first book heís written for ďall ages.Ē On a number of occasions, Gaiman has said that he wrote Coraline for his young daughters and he has succeeded in crafting a book that children could enjoy (although in all fairness, they might be slightly disturbed by some material in the book), but also spinning a tale that adults could read as well. At times, Coraline is an incredibly creepy book. Much of the horror in it young children probably wonít pick up, reserving these frights for adults who can understand the bizarreness of the world Gaiman creates.

Ultimately, thatís what Gaiman accomplishes with Coraline. He crafts a unique universe, where everything is wrong, even when things are supposed to be right. Itís a magnificent fairy tale that dwells in an obviously fairy tale world. At the same time, itís an unsettling place and Gaiman tightrope walks successfully; he doesnít fall off to either the too-enchanting side or to the too-dark side. Sometimes the writing is scary, other times humorous. Thereís a dry wit coursing through the whole book. Even during the dark sections, Gaiman boldly strikes a match of humor. It may sound tonally malleable, but itís not. The world is believable and consistent throughout the whole of the book.

The premise of Coraline isnít all that original. The idea of an unhappy girl discovering a secret room in her house where things are better and stranger is far from new or novel. But the details that Gaiman infuses this old clichť with are so remarkably bizarre and imaginative the reader can forgive the author for setting up the story in an almost formulistic manner. After all, there are only so many stories that can be told and therefore, itís the way the stories are told that matters most. And no one could do a better job revitalizing this classic premise and making it seem interesting and fresh again than Neil Gaiman.

Pen and ink illustrations are scattered (periodically, maybe fifteen illustrations total) throughout the book, drawn by long time Gaiman collaborator, Dave McKean. McKeanís line work is at its best here and perfectly compliments the story. Similar to the story, McKeanís style is a real-but-slanted one. Character line-work is expressive but purposely sloppy. Lines donít connect at a perfect point, nor are they totally straight. Perspective is off in most of the drawings, tables taking funny slants, glasses leaving odd shadows. All art is done masterfully, of course, and the odd nature of the drawings adds to the odd feeling of the book.

Next page: Slush reviews the Coraline reading event...

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