Last week, on the train back from Germany, I finished Coraline by Neil Gaiman in one go. To be fair, it’s a short book, but it’s also pretty compelling. I’ll give you Neil Gaiman’s own summary:
This is the story of Coraline, who was small for her age, and found herself in darkest danger.
Before it was all over Coraline had seen what lay behind mirrors, and had a close call with a bad hand, and had come face to face with her other mother; she had rescued her true parents from a fate worse than death and triumphed against overwhelming odds.
This is the story of Coraline, who lost her parents, and found them again, and (more or less) escaped (more or less) unscathed.
Doesn’t that already sound so pure Neil Gaiman-y? He also writes in his epilogue that this is the kind of story that kids see as an adventure but that freaks parents out, and I can see what he means. I like how he can write so much from a child’s point of view without losing us older readers – we just remember what it’s like to be small and not listened to. Like how the adults in Coraline’s life (well, except her mom and dad) keep calling her Caroline because they’re just too busy with their own lives to pay attention to her. Lives that Coraline thinks are petty and non-existant and just plain uninteresting. But then Gaiman turns the tables and shows Coraline that no one’s life is small and everyone is worthy of attention (even if they do get her name wrong) – a superb twist and nice lesson, without it ever being heavy-handed. He also works some pretty freaky details into the mix (button eyes! a disembodied hand! lost souls!) while always, always keeping it real. It takes talent to do that, and I adored the book for it. And the illustrations (by Dave McKean) are perfect and made me just uncomfortable enough to add to the fun.
Also, I love the name Coraline. I’ll tuck it into the one-day box and hopefully remember it if I ever have a little girl. Because you know that any child of mine will have to be named after something literary.