Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline, a vivacious and curious only child, has moved with her parents into a large old house that has been subdivided into four units. She has odd neighbors whom she occasionally visits, but she feels alone for the most part. Her parents, although home, seem always to be working, and there are no other children around. It is while following her father’s suggestion of counting windows and doors throughout the house that she discovers a little locked door in the one room in the house that is rarely used. Her mother finds the key, but it opens only to a brick wall separating sections of the house – or so Coraline thought at first. What Coraline later finds in the dark and without her parent’s knowledge is that this door leads to her other world. Coraline’s other world is ruled by her Other Mother. At first, she is charmed by her Other Mother and Father even though their eyes are simply black buttons. They take great interest in her and make true home-cooked meals. While she might enjoy the attention, she soon discovers how sinister Other Mother is and she is forced to save herself and her true parents from the world through that little door.
Coraline was a much different reading experience for me than The Graveyard Book or Neverwhere. While Other Mother is a creepy, evil character, she isn’t developed in the same way as Gaiman’s other villains. Her edge comes from her physical presence, while the ghouls or Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemaar make themselves apparent through their dialog. I found more delight in the Vandemaars and Bishops of Bath and Wells, but writing the Other Mother this way did bring spunky Coraline firmly front and center. What wasn’t there for me in the way of banter, Coraline made up with her bravery and ingenuity. She is not afraid to get up and chase a shadow through a strange house and, when push comes to shove, she puts others before herself. She takes responsibility for her own problems and throws a thrilling tea party, too. In those ways, she was very real to me.
Who can remember daydreaming about having the perfect parents? I most certainly can. The parents in this fantasy fluctuated from kings and queens to Luke and Laura (yeah, I’m dating myself here). While I never had a problem with my mother’s cooking like Coraline did, there were many things that my Other Mother would have done better and with more finesse. What Coraline points out so beautifully is that often the characteristics and actions we prescribe to our “perfect parents” would in fact prove detrimental to us, at least to some extent. One of the things I remember longing for in my parental dream team was the permission to stay up as late as I desired. Had my parents allowed me to do that, they wouldn’t have been parenting at all. There’s no possibility that I could have performed at my best at school if I was exhausted all of the time. Regardless, getting whatever you want eventually loses its luster precisely because it’s not what you really need. You need parents who love you, take care of you, and provide you with the discipline you need to lead your most healthy, productive life.
Coraline reaffirmed my preference for reading a novel before seeing the film. We rented and watched “Coraline” a couple of months ago. I enjoyed the movie a great deal and loved what Tim Burton did with the animation. However, there was a character in the movie that played a prominent role that did not exist in the book. I spent a third of the novel waiting for him to arrive on the scene only to realize that he would never come. It was a distraction and I wished that I had come to this novel with a clean slate. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this novel a great deal and read it in less than 24 hours. I look forward to the day when I can read this with my daughters – and not just to put the fear of the Other Mother in their hearts (hey, they probably think they’ve already got one… LOL!)
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I won my copy of this novel from a contest hosted by Bermudaonion’s Weblog. Thanks, Kathy!
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