I read a review of a book titled, “Coraline” written by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman – Neil Gaiman – the name sounded familiar. I had heard or read about him somewhere.
It is not often that names of authors of children’s books are remembered – at least by persons of my generation. We know our Enid Blyton or Rowling. Of course, everyone has heard of William, Billy Bunter, Hardy boys, Nancy Drew on one hand, and Roald Dahl, Ruskin Bond etc on the other, but how many can recall the association of an author with a specific work and vice-versa? My guess is that very few people can – except for quiz aficionados and book buffs.
Coraline, an only child, moves into a new house with her father and mother. It is one of those huge old houses, which have now been partitioned into several units. Misses Spink and Forcible, retired actresses, live in a flat on the ground floor below their house.
Her parents, like all modern day parents, are always busy working, typing something on the computer.
In her first few days there, which happen to be in the holidays, Coraline explores the house and its grounds – its ground has a garden, an unused tennis court and an abandoned well, which has been covered with boards, so that nobody falls in. She also discovers a rather aloof and haughty black cat living on the premises. On one boring, rainy day she explores the house too, which, she discovers, has 14 doors and 21 windows, of which one door is walled up with bricks.
One day (we come to the interesting part), when no one is at home she decides to explore the door that had been walled up. She opens the door, and surprise! It opens on to a dark hallway. The bricks have gone, as if they’d never been there. There is a cold, musty smell coming through the open doorway: “it smelled like something very old and very slow”. (Next is the most exciting part) Coraline goes through the door!
Surprisingly, she enters a world which looks very much like her present home. The only difference being that this world seems a bit sinister; it is peopled by the same people in her real world, except that all of them have black buttons for their eyes. There is a person who looks like her mother, called the “other mother” and a father who is the “other father“. The other mother seemingly loves Coraline and wants Coraline to live with her for ever. She also wants to sew black buttons into Coraline’s eyes just like all the others living there. What a frightening thought!
Does Coraline continue to live in her new found world or does she return back to her world? The adventures of Coraline in this frightening and eerie world, and her attempt to escape forms the rest of the story. During her stay in that world, she has a helpful companion, in the form of a talking cat, which helps her at crucial moments. If you want to know what happened to Coraline, you must read the book.
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- I was wondering about what the theme of the story was. What stands out is the bravery of Coraline, despite her young age. For example, there is this situation, when she returns to the real world, to find her parents missing for 2 days! She knows that she has to go back into that other world to rescue her parents – that is brave. This is in fact highlighted in the story:
‘Because,’ she said, ‘when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.’
- The narration is gripping and keeps the reader engaged throughout. It is an excellent resource for story-telling and adaptations to other formats, like a play. A lot of the situations give scope for the story-teller to use her imagination and embellish the story while telling it. Here is a small snippet:
The rain had stopped, and she was almost asleep when something went t-t-t-t-t-t. She sat up in bed. Something went kreeee . . . . . . aaaak.
Coraline wondered if she’d dreamed it, whatever it was.
It was little more than a shadow, and it scuttled down the darkened hall fast, like a little patch of night.
She hoped it wasn’t a spider. Spiders made Coraline intensely uncomfortable. The black shape went into the drawing room and Coraline followed it in, a little nervously.
The room was dark. The only light came from the hall, and Coraline, who was standing in the doorway, cast a huge and distorted shadow on to the drawing-room carpet: she looked like a thin giant woman.
- Gaiman has captured the feel that one gets when moving into a new place. If any of you have moved into a rambling old house, you’d be able to understand the thrill of exploring a new place.
Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house. It was a very old house – it had an attic under the roof and a cellar under the ground and an overgrown garden with huge old trees in it.
- Some of the situations and conversations are reminiscent of C S White and Lewis Carroll – they have a surreal and dream like quality. Here is a sample dialogue between Caroline and the talking cat:
Caroline: “What is your name?” Cat: “Cats don’t have names. … you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are “.
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- Despite being written well, despite being engaging, there were all these niggling questions in my mind, “what is the author trying to convey?“, “Does the story try to convey any message?“, ” Is this an allegory?“, “Is the secret door the portal to a parallel universe?” However, I was unable to unearth any hidden meaning or message within the story.
- The motivation for the “other mother” being the way she is is inexplicable. In all fairy tales we know and understand why the villains act the way they do. For example, in Snow White, the evil queen is a vain person besides being the step mother; in Cinderella it is the step-mother theme that is the motivation. There is no clear cut instance that shows up the “other mother” as a villain. There is just one instance, when Coraline observes that the “other mother” wants her (Coraline) as a possession, rather than out of love. Hmm, OK – but I did not find it convincing.
. . .
- I had a bit of a problem in classifying it – recommended for children and maybe young adults (and also adults), who are finished with Enid Blyton and are not yet into Harry Potter, and are interested in fantasy / bizarre fairy tales.
Dark Fantasy – enjoy the thrill!