Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

It took me a long time to warm up to Neil Gaiman. He was one of those writers some of the guys I knew in college idolized. "Oh my god, you have to read American Gods, it's just great. It's sort of like Hercules meets Superman. I can't really describe it, you just have to read it."

I'll pass on anything that inspires that level of fanboyism. I'm never as impressed by the clever concepts and the inevitable deus ex machina plot twists.

But I finally couldn't avoid The Sandman, and I loved it. As a (stupendously long) graphic novel, it builds its own sturdy little universe. The way Sandman tucks itself into the comic book world you already know is a real joy to watch. And having a book (or movie or tv series) be self-supporting is important to me.

And that opened a door.

I had seen (and enjoyed) Coraline the movie, so for a recent road trip, Carol brought along the audiobook. We've found we really enjoy children's books in the car. Children's books are meant to be read aloud, so with a good narrator, they can really come to life.

The plot is largely the same: Coraline finds a door in her new house, and bored by her inattentive parents, she slips down the rabbit hole, where she meets the doting but domineering Other Mother. Coraline wants to leave, but the Other Mother has kidnapped Coraline's parents. To free them, Coraline must beat the Other Mother at a game of hide and seek.

What surprised me about the book was the how many fairytale tropes and childhood insecurities it really plays with. The fear of being ignored and forgotten. The challenge of making the wrong choice, of not knowing how to go on. The danger of being dissatisfied with life, and the danger of wishing for something different. How things are rarely what they appear to be.

Most of all, what I liked about Coraline was that it wasn't shy about being complicated. It's a big world, after all, and our decisions have consequences. Coraline made choices early on that she didn't really understand were choices, and then she had to deal with the ramifications. And life is like that, though I don't usually expect to see that kind of sentiment in a children's book. So maybe I liked Coraline because it wasn't really a children's book.

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