Friday, October 28, 2016

Audiobook review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: August 4, 2002
Publisher: HarperCollins
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Coraline lives with her preoccupied parents in part of a huge old house--a house so huge that other people live in it, too... round, old former actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible and their aging Highland terriers ("We trod the boards, luvvy") and the mustachioed old man under the roof ("'The reason you cannot see the mouse circus,' said the man upstairs, 'is that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed.'") Coraline contents herself for weeks with exploring the vast garden and grounds. But with a little rain she becomes bored--so bored that she begins to count everything blue (153), the windows (21), and the doors (14). And it is the 14th door that--sometimes blocked with a wall of bricks--opens up for Coraline into an entirely alternate universe. Now, if you're thinking fondly of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, you're on the wrong track. Neil Gaiman's Coraline is far darker, far stranger, playing on our deepest fears. And, like Roald Dahl's work, it is delicious.

What's on the other side of the door? A distorted-mirror world, containing presumably everything Coraline has ever dreamed of... people who pronounce her name correctly (not "Caroline"), delicious meals (not like her father's overblown "recipes"), an unusually pink and green bedroom (not like her dull one), and plenty of horrible (very un-boring) marvels, like a man made out of live rats. The creepiest part, however, is her mirrored parents, her "other mother" and her "other father"--people who look just like her own parents, but with big, shiny, black button eyes, paper-white skin... and a keen desire to keep her on their side of the door. To make creepy creepier, Coraline has been illustrated masterfully in scritchy, terrifying ink drawings by British mixed-media artist and Sandman cover illustrator Dave McKean. This delightful, funny, haunting, scary as heck, fairy-tale novel is about as fine as they come. Highly recommended. 

Let me start by saying this: if the blurb on the book cover calls it "One of the most frightening books ever written," I expect to be shaking in my boots. Now, I get that Coraline is a children's book, but I have seen this on so many "best of" horror lists that I just had to give it a try during the Halloween season! It's worth pointing out that this was also my first Gaiman book so I didn't really know what I was getting into, although I know his reputation.

Coraline is about a girl who lives in a really weird house with another really weird house on the other side of a bricked up door. Coraline was a fun character, if a little, um... weird. The real fun starts when she does exactly what she should not do by visiting the other side of the door in the room she isn't supposed to be in to begin with. There lives her other mother and other father, a couple super unnerving folks who want her to forget about her real parents and stay with them forever. Coraline meets other characters including a talking cat and a bunch of singing rats who help her on the way to get back to her world.

I really did want to know more about the other mother. While she was a super creepy villain, I never felt like I really understood who she was or why she was evil to begin with. All villains have some kind of backstory, but not the other mother. Why is she living on the other side of the bricked up door and what is her purpose? Maybe I just totally missed that.

Honestly, this is just a really weird book. The world building is spectacular, though! Neil Gaiman really knows how to create a world that's unique and creepy right from the first page. The characters are all intriguing even though we never get to know them super well. What this book is not, however, is horror. I see now on Goodreads that the first genre listed is fantasy and that is much more accurate.

One thing I did really enjoy about this book was that Neil Gaiman himself performed the audio. I always wonder when listening to audiobooks if the author actually intended the characters to be presented in the way the narrators are interpreting them. The audio here portrays the strange, whimsical feelings that Gaiman obviously wanted to get across to the reader and it was awesome.

I enjoyed Coraline for what it was - a creepy children's book. I liked the characters and thought the villain was pretty great! I also really liked the world and the cat. I just expected more from a book that's blurbed as one of the most frightening ever written. I feel like there's a bit of nostalgia that goes along with Coraline and if I had read it when I was younger perhaps I could have appreciated it more. As it stands, I did like it, but really hoped for something a bit more scary!