Author: Neil Gaiman Series: Standalone Genre: Fiction Release Date: August 4, 2002 Book Length: 162 pages Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks Review: 4/5
The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring….
In Coraline’s family’s new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close. The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.
Only it’s different.
At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.
Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.
When I think of Coraline, I think of Octobers as a child flipping through television stations and finding that it was playing. For a children’s movie, it always felt so sinister – the blank, button-eyed stare of the ‘Other Mother’ still imprinted in my mind. Now that I’ve read it, I still have the same impression, except now, I understand a deeper meaning behind the story that I never thought about as a kid.
Like many fictional children before her, curious Coraline daydreams of a different life – a life away from home where she feels bored and neglected by her preoccupied parents. Enter the secret corridor in her house which she discovers and is immediately enthralled by. When Coraline steps through the door, she is in an alternate reality of her own life and one that, at first, seems so much better. Through the door, her ‘Other Parents’ pay attention to her, people actually call her Coraline instead of Caroline, and her father’s disgusting dinners are a thing of the past. Everything seems perfect… a little too perfect. Her Other Mother wants her to stay there with her, never to return to her original world, so she can love and care for Coraline forever. Once Coraline rebels against the idea, the Other Mother’s true colours as an evil, manipulative entity are shown and it is Coraline’s job to save herself, her family, and other children she meets along the way who have all fallen victim to Other Mother’s trap.
The way I see it, the life beyond the door represented the exact flip of Coraline’s reality: in her real life, she knew her parents loved her, but they were poor showing it and kind of unintentionally treated her like a nuisance; in life beyond the door, her Other Parents showed her affection, but it was hollow and based upon manipulation. People who are manipulative are often blind to what it is they are doing and how that affects other people – cue the reason that in the other world, the Other Mother and everyone else who was successfully manipulated by her had buttons for eyes, much like puppets. I found it so interesting that the Other Mother was trying to give Coraline buttons for eyes, because in my opinion that felt like a fitting final step for someone who wants to rid you of the ability to see them for the monster they really are.
The dark fantasy-style of writing works perfectly for this book because Coraline herself is grappled by the dark fantasy presented though the alternate version of her life. Just as it is the perfect October movie, it is the perfect October book, and one that I would definitely revisit time and time again.