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
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
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
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
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.