Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline's often wondered what's behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her "other" parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.
This novel's target audience is children. Probably children in their early teenage years, but children nonetheless. I am almost twenty-five and a half, and I have never been so terrified of a book in my life. The Shining doesn't even compare to this, and I wouldn't say that lightly.
I enjoyed this because it surprised me. It wasn't your average condescending children’s' novel; it was written to appeal to them, to engage with them, and to teach them subtle moral lessons, but not in a cringe worthy, obvious way. There were no lyrical descriptions of nature, no clichés, just lots of scary plot. Gaiman doesn't waste words, and it really is refreshing and wonderful. I liked that it was very, very creepy; I'm a firm believer that kids can handle a bit more in novels than the usual cutesy; all lived happily ever after, nonsense.
The story isn't explained in great detail. Gaiman doesn't give us a wall of scientific reasons as to why the alternate world exists behind the locked door; it just does. He doesn't explain what type of creature the 'other mother' is; she just exists and is scary. Oh, was she scary.
Gaiman's characterisation is spot-on. Coraline is bad ass. I wanted to be her best friend, albeit her whimpering, terrified pansy of a best friend, but still. She is incredibly independent and clever, sharp-witted and curious; she refused to leave the mysterious door alone until she had solved the mystery behind it; she fights off evil all by herself (with help from a cat), and matures in a lovely way after almost drowning in the supernatural. COOL!
The story from Coraline's perspective - a determined, but bored, pre-teen girl - was absolutely delightful. Pre-teen narratives tend to be very decisive, without nonsensical ponderings about boys, or what everyone at school thinks of them. They're standard black and white, no nonsense, it is what it is, real life reports from young minds. Coraline was no different, and I loved her for it.
The adults were also portrayed really well. They tolerated and entertained Coraline to a point, but remained wrapped up in their own little worlds, and soon were bored of the strange little girl seizing their precious time. Coraline was never shown to be exasperated by this, but seemed to grudgingly accept the fact that the grown-ups just don't understand and were entirely oblivious of her day-to-day concerns.
Best of all, however, was Gaiman's personification of the cat. Patronising, standoffish, and easily offended, but wise and loyal once his trust had been gained. Isn't that the perfect way to describe a cat?
And the setting?! Strange keys, thick mist, odd doors, ghosts in a small cupboard reminiscent of the Chokey from Matilda; I doubt I'll sleep soundly again.
Read this book. It is absolutely wonderful, dark, quirky and profound. I can actually imagine reading this as an adult is far scarier than reading it as a child. I absolutely intend to inhale everything else Gaiman has written.
I'll leave you with an impressive quote from our very own Coraline Jones:
“I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn't mean anything? What then?”