"The message is this. Don't go through the door.",
This review is from: Coraline Publisher: Harper Perennial (Paperback)
Nobody can drench a book in creepy, dank atmosphere like Neil Gaiman -- and it doesn't matter if it's a kid's book.
And "Coraline" -- now being released as a movie -- is no exception to Gaiman's track record. It's a haunting little dark fairy tale full of decayed apartments, dancing rats and eerie soulless doppelgangers, as well as a gutsy heroine who finds herself in this ominous "other" world.
Newly moved into an aged apartment, Coraline (not "Caroline" is bored. Her parents are too busy to do anything with her, and her neighbors are either insane or boring.
It's the sort of relentlessly dull world that any little girl would want to escape from -- until Coraline does. She encounters a formerly bricked-up door that leads into an apartment in another world, which looks eerily like her own. In fact, it's so similar that she has a taloned, button-eyed "other mother" and matching "other father," as well as a chorus of singing, dancing rats and magical toys.
At first Coraline is fascinated by the other world, especially since her other parents are very attentive. Then she finds her real parents sealed inside a mirror. With the help of a sarcastic cat, Coraline ventures back into the other world. But with her parents and a trio of dead children held hostage, Coraline's only hope is to gamble with her own freedom -- and she'll be trapped forever if she fails.
Without Neil Gaiman's touch, "Coraline" would just be another story about a kid who learns to appreciate her parents. But he infuses this story with a dark fairy-tale vibe -- decayed apartments, dead children in a mirror, beetles, disembodied hands, monsters that cling to the wall with souls in their grip, and rats that sing about how "we were here before you rose, we will be here when you fall."
That dark, cobwebby atmosphere clings to the increasingly nightmarish plot, as Coraline navigates a world where the other mother has every advantage. And Gaiman's wordcraft is exquisitely horrible -- the other mother's hands are compared to spiders, her hair to undersea tentacles. And the fate of the other father is a magnificently ghastly thing.
He even infuses poetry into the horror ("A husk you'll be, a wisp you'll be, and a thing no more than a dream on waking, or a memory of something forgotten"), and a fair amount of macabre humour ("I swear it on my own mother's grave." "Does she have a grave?" "Oh yes. I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back").
Coraline herself is a wonderful little heroine -- strong, sensible, self-sufficient but still fairly freaked out about what is happening around her. The sarcastic cat is a wonderful counterpoint. And the other mother is the stuff of nightmares -- she's utterly inhuman and merciless -- who "wants something to love. Something that isn't her. She might want something to eat as well."
Neil Gaiman creates eerie, slightly warped worlds like nobody else, and he does an exquisitely horrible job in "Coraline." Just never go through the door.