Fantastic Reviews - Fantasy Book Review
Coraline USA cover Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Harper Collins USA hardcover - Copyright 2002
162 pages (left) - Cover art by Dave McKean

Book reviewed March 2006

Rating: 8/10  (Highly Recommended)

Review by Jackie Sachen Turner

Coraline won the 2003 Hugo Award and 2003 Nebula Awards for Best Novella

          Coraline, a juvenile fiction novella for children 8 years and up, won the 2003 Hugo and Nebula awards, and I can see why.  Author Neil Gaiman wrote a quirky children's story in fairy tale style.  As dark as some Grimm's Fairy Tales, it has a twist of horror, yet happily, a most satisfactory ending.

Coraline, not Caroline, lives in an old house that has been divided into four flats.  Former actresses, elderly Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, live in the large, ground-floor flat with their Highland terriers; in the attic flat lives a crazy, old man with his bizarre mouse circus.  The middle floor of the house contains two separate flats.  Coraline and her mother and father live in one; and the other flat, adjacent to Coraline's flat, is empty.  Or is it?

Both of Coraline's parents work at home on their computers during the day.  Since they are busy working and because school hasn't yet begun, Coraline must amuse herself, although her father does suggest things for her to do:  counting the number of windows, things that are blue, the number of doors, or anything -- as long as she doesn't make a mess or pester her parents too much.  It's in the counting of doors, fourteen total, that Coraline enters a rarely used drawing room and, at the far end, discovers a special, carved, wooden door -- the only one that's locked.  Coraline's mother explains that the other side of that particular locked door is the empty unoccupied fourth flat.  When Coraline and her mother take the big, rusty key, unlock and open the door, they find a solid brick wall.  But that's when the horrible, mysterious events begin to happen at night, with strange singing and scuttling sounds.

One boring day, with her parents too busy as usual, Coraline quietly takes the cold, rusty key, wanders into the drawing room, and opens the locked door again; but this time, instead of solid bricks, a dark musty hallway beckons her.  She walks down the hall.  It looks like the same hall as in her flat with similar carpet and similar painting on the wall.  Or does it?  Coraline continues down the hall and enters her own flat, kind of, only different.

"Coraline?" calls out a voice, which sounds like her mother's voice.  There in the kitchen stands her mother, only different -- taller, thinner, and with fingernails that are sharp and dark red, and this Other Mother gives Coraline lots of attention.  But this Other Mother has black button eyes, so does the Other Father, so does the Other crazy, old man upstairs, and so does the Other Miss Spink and Miss Forcible.  And the animals talk and the food tastes great, at first, and it feels interesting, yet prickly and spooky.  And the Other Mother doesn't want Coraline to walk back through the door, back to her real home.

Will Coraline ever get back to her own flat?  Who are the mirror children who wear strange clothes, seem so sad, and have no souls?  Where are her real parents?  What's the secret of the snow globe?

This book scared me, yet it was an exciting page-turner.  I'd suggest keeping it away from very young children unless the parents don't mind their youngsters sleeping with them for a couple months.  Despite the nightmarish setting and freakish plot elements (lost children and stolen souls), Coraline held my attention.  It's well-written and creepy and filled with rats and bugs and a talking black cat and horror and it's creepy, and did I mention it's creepy?

Neil Gaiman said that he began this fantasy story over 10 years ago, wishing to write a book for his then 5-year-old daughter.  The book morphed from a lighter story into an amazing tale about a girl of no particular age whose parents seem too busy to give their daughter attention and who have difficulty truly listening to her.  On his web site, www.neilgaiman.com, Mr. Gaiman offers a few sentences about Coraline: "It was a story, I learned when people began to read it, that children experienced as an adventure, but which gave adults nightmares.  It's the strangest book I've written, it took the longest time to write, and it's the book I'm proudest of."

Neil Gaiman might be correct in the fact that children would find reading this book (with gothic-looking, pen-and-ink drawings) an interesting adventure -- wandering around a make-believe world where all is not as it appears to be sounds exciting.  I would say children over 9, those in intermediate grade school, could handle the scariness of this book.  Nowadays, media exposure has sharpened many kids into understanding dark fantasies and accepting their dark elements, especially for those readers who are J. K. Rowling, Tolkien, and/or Xbox fans.

          Our science fiction and fantasy book club read this dark fantasy/horror novella in January of 2004.  I rated Coraline an 8, out of a 0-10 scale -- mine being one of the highest ratings of the group.  Although it scared me (reading late at night, close to the basement steps during a thunderstorm), I also loved it.  What a wonderful tale to add to Gaiman's collection of novels!  I can understand why he is so proud of this book.
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
Please send them to:
SciFiJackie@aol.com


UK Bloomsbury Children's Books
192 pages (right)
Coraline UK cover

Other Neil Gaiman book reviews on Fantastic Reviews:
Anansi Boys

Back to Fantastic Reviews main page

Our book club's web pages for Neil Gaiman books (includes Gaiman bibliography):
Neverwhere
Stardust
American Gods
Coraline

Links to other Neil Gaiman reviews, articles, and websites:
Rambles: Neil Gaiman, Coraline
Steven Silver's Reviews - Neil Gaiman: Coraline
Science Fiction Weekly Interview - Neil Gaiman (2004)

For information on more science fiction and fantasy books:
Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

This page was last updated - 15 November 2008