home : news : reviews : features : fiction : podcast : blogs : t-shirts : wtf?

Reviewed by Shane Ivey, © 2002

Format: Book
By:   Neil Gaiman
Genre:   Fantasy
Review Date:   May 28, 2002
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

Gaiman delivered a reading of Coraline in its entirety at the World Horror Convention in Denver, Colorado, on Saturday night, May 13, 2000. This review concerns that reading. Some elements of the novel changed in the final published version.

Coraline lives in a middle-class flat, in London, with her mother and her father and eccentric old neighbors nearby, and her name is Coraline, not Caroline, as she'll patiently point out whenever someone gets confused. She keeps a black cat, as nearly a pet as any cat will be, and there's a door hidden in her home which leads to a nightmare mirror image of her house, neighborhood, and family, all of it governed by a cruel presence which has set its hungry gaze on Coraline. Coraline, the young girl, shares her name with the novel that tells her otherworldly story.

Coraline is a children's novel by Neil Gaiman, which is to say it is a novel leagues above most any other children's work on the shelves. Gaiman is famous for his work in dark modern fantasy, having earned critical praise throughout the 1990s for his Sandman comics and prose and the BBC miniseries Neverwhere, for which he wrote the screenplay and novelization, not to mention his recent hit American Gods. He has a unique gift for deftly blending humor, fear, and sobering depth in whatever medium.

But while he is best known for Neverwhere and Sandman, Gaiman's talents shine equally well in the handful of children stories which he has told: he has written for DC/Vertigo's The Books of Magic, a comics title seen by many as the precursor to the Harry Potter phenomenon; and he scripted The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, a graphic novel listed for children aged 4-8 (illustrated by Sandman illustrator Dave McKean), which was published in late 1998 and has been discussed as a possible television cartoon series.

The latest in Gaiman's short list of juvenile works, Coraline will almost certainly cement his fame as a breathtakingly skilled writer of fantasies that are equally alluring to children and adults. Alternately whimsical, creepy, charming and dreamy, it is written with elegant prose perfectly suited to its audience, simple in structure and language without ever condescending to the reader.

The story opens with Coraline's life in her plain London home, sharing time with her kind and casually attentive parents, the eccentric, good-hearted old women who live across the foggy street, and the strange old man who lives upstairs. Like most children, Coraline sees most of her life as drudgery, filled with boring afternoons at home or awkward conversations with grown-ups. When the chance comes to look for some genuine spark of magic, she jumps at it: "Don't go through the door," she is cryptically told, but when she finds an old black key and a door in her home she's never seen before, she's quick to go right through and see what there is to see.

Through the door she finds a nightmare reflection of her life, complete with her home (only now she has a troop of rats for pets), her cat (now shooed away as vermin), the old women across the street (who now perform daily theatre shows for devoted audiences of... well, you'll want to read that scene for yourself), and her altogether creepy "Other-Mother" and "Other-Father," who want more than anything else for Coraline to forget her real mother and father and stay with them forever.

Coraline carries Gaiman's signature style, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny (Ms. Spink and Ms. Forcible's stage show), sometimes chillingly frightening (the Other-Mother's button eyes; the children in the wall), and sometimes beautifully surreal. The story's most memorable scenes are those of dreamy terror.

Ultimately, though, Coraline is optimistic, despite all its young heroine's hazards, slowly invoking a stirring sense of the perfect, brave, desperate love in her ordinary family. The moral of the story is clear enough, as it ought to be in a book written for children; but that doesn't detract from the charm in Gaiman's language or his gift for evocative scenery and wholly human characterization.

Coraline is expected to be published in summer 2002. It will be worth the wait. But if you get a chance to hear it early, don't pass it by. At the World Horror Convention, Gaiman read to an audience of die-hard adult horror fans, and they—we—were entirely enchanted.

RevolutionSF producer Shane Ivey went through the door, too, only he's never come back out again.

Recommend Us
  • Send to a Friend
  • Digg This
  • Reddit It
  • Add to del.ic.ious
  • Share at Facebook
  • Discuss!
  • Send Feedback
  • Doctor Who - Season Six
  • Roundtable 65 - Age in Genre Fiction
  • Book Forum
  • Related Pages
  • Print This Page
  • Coraline
  • Trailer Probe : Coraline
  • Neil Gaiman`s Coraline Preview: Hush and Shush
  • Search RevSF
  • New on RevSF
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Book Probe: BattleMaster, Wade of Aquitaine, Kriendria of Amorium
  • RevSF Podcast: Drowning in Moonlight: Remembering Carrie Fisher
  • Logan
  • RevSF Home


    Things From Our Brains
    Get even more out of RevSF.

    Blood and Thunder:
    The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard
    RevolutionSF RSS Feed
    Search RevSF

    Random RevSF
    Six Degrees of The X-Files to The Rockford Files

    contact : advertising : submissions : legal : privacy
    RevolutionSF is ™ and © Revolution Web Development, Inc., except as noted.
    Intended for readers age 18 and above.