As you’ll know if you read my last Sunday Rundown, I’ve decided that I’m going to try and listen to an audiobook ever weekend. This means I’ll hopefully be able to keep up with two reviews a week. It also means that I’ll get through more books a week. I don’t think listening to them at work as I did with The Diary of a Bookseller. It was fine for a non-fiction book but I don’t think I can keep track of the narrative of a story. Most of my job involves writing and researching. It’s not the kind of thing you can do and still pay attention to a book. But, I can try and get one finished when I have a free weekend. Stick one on as I tidy or take photos for the upcoming week. Then, if I’ve nothing else to do, I can just lie in bed and relax for a bit. This week, I had an urge to revisit an old favourite. The fact that’s it was also read by Neil Gaiman himself was just an added bonus.
I was obsessed with Alice in Wonderland when I was a child. I loved the story of Alice falling into another world and meeting all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. Coraline is a darker version of Lewis Carroll’s novel. If I’d been part of its target audience when it came out, child me would have loved it. Actually, child me was a huge wimp so she might have avoided it. But it’s exactly the kind of thing she’d have enjoyed reading. It’s certainly one of my favourite Neil Gaiman stories nowadays. It’s one of those comfort reads that fills me with joy. Joy mixed with unease obviously. There’s some creepy stuff here.
Coraline is the story of Coraline Jones and her family. She and her parents move into a new home. They live in one of a series of apartments that have been built within an old house. Her neighbours include Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two ex-stage performers, and the crazy old man upstairs. When she is exploring, Coraline comes across a door that links her flat to the empty flat next door. Initially, she finds that the door is bricked up but, on a second look, it takes her into another version of her own flat. There she meets her Other Mother, Other Father, and the Other version of her neighbours. This new world is much more exciting and fun than her old life. Her parents pay her more attention, the two old ladies perform daring shows for their dogs, and Mr Bobo, the old man, owns a mouse circus.
Everything seems idyllic and Coraline wishes she could stay. Unfortunately, that would mean getting buttons sewn into her eyes just like the other residents. Unsurprisingly, Coraline says no and goes back home. Other Mother isn’t one to take no for an answer and Coraline realises that she’ll have to go back. Can she overcome her Other Mother and get back to her old life? Especially when so many people that she cares about are put in grave danger. This is quite an adventure and, as is traditional with Gaiman, it isn’t afraid to get a bit dark. It doesn’t end up being incredibly scary but it is creepy. The main thing that makes Coraline so refreshing is that it doesn’t patronise its readers. Yes, it has a message to give but it does it in such a fun and engaging way.
Neil Gaiman has an amazing ability to create fictional worlds and both of the worlds we see here are wonderfully realised. The eccentric and odd characters that simultaneously feel otherworldly and realistic at the same time. Coraline’s home feels like an incredibly inviting place and I would have loved to explore more. The second version of her home is such a fun place. Well before the evil Other Mother turns up. Then we are introduced to a chilling villain. It’s got everything. And it’s all written in Gaiman’s effortless and casual style. It’s such a conversational style that even reading the book feels as though Gaiman is reading it to you.
Coraline is a short read but it is jam-packed with fantastic storytelling. It blends darkness, humour, and heartwarming family drama together. It pushes the dangerous elements quite far without ever becoming too much to handle. Yes, it perhaps goes off the rails a little towards the end but it doesn’t ruin the experience. It needed a strong resolution and I can see why Gaiman went the way he did. This is a must-read. I just wish I’d been able to experience it at the perfect age.