Book Review – Coraline – Neil Gaiman

First let’s make this clear – this is a review of the book NOT the animated movie, although I loved the movie too (and it could still be construed as such).

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That being said, I think what touched me most about this book is that it is truly a book for children. The plot line is quite deep, the psychology behind it is disturbing and twisted, and most of the story itself is so metaphorical as to be almost frightening, and yet, it is set so as to not only enter into the world of children, but also make every child who reads it feel totally at home there.

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It captures everyday moments of every child’s life – the unlikeable ‘recipes’ served at dinner, the boredom of rainy days, the loneliness of children with no other brothers or sisters, the sense of loss when one’s parents seem distant and busy with their own lives, the way children’s opinions are glossed over and ignored when it comes to practical matters like choosing clothes for school.

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Most importantly, it offers two different perspectives of parent-hood. On the one hand, we have Coraline’s normal family – her two working parents who both work at home and have their own studies there, who sometimes have no time for Coraline and who have forgotten what it’s like to be a child, and therefore do not understand her, yet who love her and would sacrifice themselves for her.

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On the other – there are the Other parents – especially, the Other mother. She is a perfectly frightening representation of those clutching needy mothers, who need something to love so much, that they literally stifle their children, bottling them up in a bubble of fake smiles and repression – until finally the childrens’ individuality is squeezed into nothingness… which is what they become.

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This metaphor of the needy cold mother, who selfishly does not really care about who Coraline is or what she actually wants, is the prevalent ‘monster’ in the story, and is all the more terrifying in that there are so many real monsters like her out in our world.

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Coraline’s natural communication with the animals around her is so normally-portrayed as to be totally believable, and not relegated to the label of ‘magical’ or ‘supernatural’ at all. Cats talk, mice dance, rats can be spies – it is presented as a fact, and so it is.

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This short book reminded me of the premise of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, where family issues are combatted by children through metaphorical intervention. Totally brilliant.

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