Outside, the world had become a formless, swirling mist with no shapes or shadows behind it, while the house itself seemed to have twisted and stretched. It seemed to Coraline that it was crouching, and staring down at her, as if it were not really a house but only the idea of a house–and the person who had had the idea, she was certain, was not a good person.
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
I read Coraline while on a long, transatlantic flight. The flight was about nine hours, and although I’ve been on longer flights, it simply felt endless. There were only a handful of movies offered, many of which I’d already watched or weren’t interested in. In general, I prefer to watch children’s movies on planes, which are simple to understand and generally don’t result in any intense reaction that might be uncomfortable on a plane. On planes, I’m already so uncomfortable that I’d prefer to have as mild a viewing experience as possible. On this particular flight, movies weren’t really an option, so I turned to my Kindle. And I turned to Coraline, which I’d deemed to be the lightest read out of the current unread books on my Kindle.
While it is a children’s novel, Coraline is perfect for readers of all ages. Sometimes I revisit books I loved growing up and find myself disappointed by the stilted dialogue and awkward prose often found in children’s literature. But Coraline is perfect. It is creepy without being overt, and I imagine not too scary for young readers. Gaiman masterfully sets a foggily eerie atmosphere for our heroine. The novel’s creepiest moments are subtle, thus leaving a long-lasting impression.
Although Coraline is a short novel, the character of Coraline is impressively fleshed out. Coraline embodies traits found in many heroes of children’s lit: precocious, bored with the tedium of her everyday life, adventurous, and misunderstood by the adults around her (down to the constant mispronunciations of her name – Coraline, not Caroline). Coraline’s precociousness and intelligence makes her relatable and likeable for adult and young readers alike. However, she is not annoyingly precocious or constantly mentioning her own intelligence or accomplishments (something that the heroine of Chuck Palahniuk’s Damned, which I read recently, is guilty of). She simply is Coraline.
Similarly, much of the novel’s internal magic is not completely explained, but I liked that aspect of it. It kept me thinking about it after I’d finished reading, and not simply because I was stuck on a plane. I could easily imagine how engaging it would be for a young reader. I especially loved the illustrations, which I thought perfectly suited the prose: somewhat whimsical, but in a stark and gruesome way. Although the aesthetic of the film version looks quite different, I’m looking forward to watching it when I get a chance.
YES OR NO: Definitely YES. A short read that I would recommend to readers of all ages. A beautiful book that, despite its simple language and straightforward plot, boasts intriguing prose clearly intentioned to subtly frighten its reader.