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Coraline by Neil Gaiman and P Craig Russell

The Graphic Novel.

Review by Sharon Robinson

Coraline 1 This is a clever, inventive adaptation of a stylish ‘crossover’ novel, in which a young girl discovers an alternative reality to the one she thinks she knows. It is starkly illustrated with very few people in it. We see Coraline, her parents, the ‘other parents’ their neighbours and a shop assistant. The town Coraline visits with her mother seems to be devoid of people. This gives the novel the feel of a stage play, but it also reflects the self-absorbed view of a small girl. Coraline is still at the stage in her life when those outside her circle are not quite real.

There’s something chilly and off-balance about both worlds. In the ‘real’ one, it could be explained by the fact that Coraline and her parents have just moved into the house. The neighbours get her name wrong and her father’s cooking is peculiar to say the least, while both of her parents are too busy to pay her much attention. There are no other children around, so like many another lonely literary child – Alice, Mary Craven, (The Secret Garden) and  Harry Potter, Coraline has to find things out for herself.
The other parents are attentive, cook well and have plenty of time to spare their daughter, but  Coraline 9they are the stuff of nightmares. The other mother is feral-looking, with black-button eyes, rodent teeth and a truly horrible hand with a life of its own. Her demeanour – that of hungry coldness – is at odds with Coraline’s real mother, her warmth, occasional impatience and awful taste in school jumpers. The other father is a waxen creation of the other mother, not the solid figure who saves Coraline from a swarm of angry wasps. These creatures don’t know about love. They only know what they think will make them real and that’s Coraline.

Right from the start, Coraline knows these people aren’t right in some way, but she also knows she has to deal with them in order to save those she loves. This is clearer in the graphic novel  than in the original print version, where Coraline is depicted as younger and more naïve, around the same age as Alice. The graphic novel Coraline has the height, body shape and language skills Coraline 8of an eleven year old. The mention of her return to school suggests that Coraline might be about to start high school. If this is the case, it underlines the power in the narrative; growing up, discovering that your parents are flawed and loving them anyway, losing your identity and finding it again, and the importance of courage, loyalty and love.

In order to get there, Coraline has to separate herself from her parents and the other mother is a particularly good way to express that need. The other mother is more openly controlling, she talks to Coraline as if she were a small child and in order to free herself, Coraline has to take more decisive steps than she does with the real woman. The normal processes of growing up will separate them, but the other mother has to be shaken off in a much more decided way.

The artwork is very pared-down, with enough detail to make it chilling. As well as the other Coraline 7mother  (a wonderfully horrible creation) the rats are very impressive and the whole conveys a sense of the very real and practical with the unworldly. The story is very simple so the artwork suits it without overburdening it or distracting from the narrative.

In tone, the novel pulls in Alice in Wonderland, elements of the modern fairy story and Angela Carter. Without being lurid and gruesome, it’s powerful and frightening and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as bedtime reading for the very young or very nervous. However, if that’s not you and you like a good scare, it’s an intelligent presentation of a beautiful little gem of a novel.

Bloomsbury. 2008.  ISBN: 978-0747594062.  192pp.

14 comments on “Coraline by Neil Gaiman and P Craig Russell

  1. Lisa
    February 5, 2009

    Ooh, just reading that has given me chills. There’s something very eerie about the story and the artwork. The other mother is definitely the stuff of nightmares. Not sure this book would be for me but I really enjoyed the review.

  2. Moira
    February 5, 2009

    Yes. Curiously, when I was setting up Kari’s ‘Sandman’ piece yesterday, I didn’t find any of the images I was rooting around in particularly disturbing … but THESE … they really are quite chilling.

    It’s brilliantly done … and a great review.

  3. Kari
    February 5, 2009

    Thanks for this thoughtful review. Gaiman has a peculiarly visual imagination, and even his non-graphic works seem to cry out to be adapted as comics. That image of the other mother with the black button eyes is truly disturbing. It’s also interesting to hear that the comic introduces a slightly older Coraline; the story is, in many ways, a coming-of-age tale, and the idea of a heroine on the cusp of puberty changes the focus ever so subtly. It will be interesting to see how the film relates to the two print versions.

  4. Jackie
    February 6, 2009

    Like Kari, I find the strange eyes of the one mother disturbing.The clips of the animated film that I’ve seen has a very different look, Coraline looks much younger than 11. It would be great if some of the folks who see the film would stop by & compare it with the books.
    I do have to say that I get tired of rats being used as a horror element. And the drawing shown above aren’t very accurate as far as how rats really are shaped; their silhouettes are much sleeker,which would actually make them more predatory, but they are never drawn that way.
    It is an interesting angle for a middle aged man to take, to write from the viewpoint of a young girl. That must’ve been a challenge.

  5. Stefan
    February 8, 2009

    The trailer for the film seems to paint an atmosphere quite different from the one in the review above. More characters, for starters.

    The thing that makes me anticipate the movie is that it’s stop-motion animation!

  6. Dana
    June 7, 2009

    so where does Wybie come into all of this?

  7. Kristina
    August 13, 2009

    I like the blond-haired Coraline better than the blue-haired Coraline.

  8. Allie
    August 22, 2009

    The movie is better, plus I like the conflict of the movie better. It’s my favorite movie ever. My biggest obbsession. The Other Mother looks scarier in the graphic novel.

  9. apiedhebat
    November 12, 2009

    hi!
    could you share please any link for me to download the graphic novel of coraline

    thank you in advance

  10. apiedhebat
    November 12, 2009

    i mean, free download.

  11. Katie
    July 1, 2010

    The movie was amazing. I love stop motion and the characters each played their parts really well. But, it left out some parts of the book that were pretty cool for me.

    The book was the best for me, as the creepy story and brilliantly dark drawings mixed together it sent chills down my spine, and got scarier onwards.

    Neil Gaiman once said that Coraline is older than she looks, which makes sense. Coraline was very sensible and adult-like when she tried to get out of the Beldam’s twisted world, but still had the air of a girl who knew when to keep her cool. Let’s just hope that the other mother’s hand stays down in that well.

  12. Camilla
    October 19, 2010

    hello my name is camilla can you sent books on Coraline To Iceland?? i love this movei of coraline:D:D

  13. Pingback: P. Craig Russell Adapting Neil Gaiman's Coraline » Need Coffee Dot Com

  14. Pingback: Stimulus for Major Production – Coraline | Patterson River Drama Blog

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2009 by in Fiction: fantasy, Fiction: young adult, Special Features and tagged , , , .

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Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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