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REVIEW: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

REVIEW SUMMARY: A must-read for dark fantasy fans of all ages.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A young girl discovers a home similar to her own and must rescue herself and the souls trapped by her “other mother”.


PROS: Vivid writing; great characters; disturbingly dark mood.

CONS: Magical things go unexplained (my usual complaint with fantasy).

BOTTOM LINE: An excellent read even for this casual fantasy fan.

Coraline is a young girl who has some complaints: life is boring, people mispronounce her name as Caroline and her parents don’t give her much attention. She discovers a house similar to her own on the other side of a door in her new house where things seem better. But Coraline soon finds herself a prisoner held captive by her “other mother”, a paler (and evil) version of her own mother. In order to escape, Coraline bets her that she can rescue the trapped souls that her other mother has captured and all she has to help her are a talking black cat and a stone with a hole in it.

The young adult novella “Coraline” gets high marks for writing style, mood and characterizations. The scenes described are vivid as could be possible with words. I felt like I was there right alongside Coraline, exploring the mysterious world parallel to our own. With these descriptions, Gaiman paints some wonderfully dark scenes and characters. The other mother, for example, is a much paler version of Coraline’s real mother and has big, black buttons sewn over her eyes. And all she wants is to do the same to Coraline. Yikes! The characters are very well done too. Coraline is a smart and determined girl who is immediately likable. The other mother is an equally strong character matching Coraline’s likeability with evil. And the black cat is a hoot!

If I had to voice any complaints, they are generic to the fantasy genre or the result of my reading experience. The stone with the hole in it, something that helps Coraline in the alternate world, goes unexplained with respect to its origins or inner workings. As is done a lot in fantasy, it just “is”. My logical brain oftentimes has a hard time accepting that, thus such contrivances (which suit the author in the storytelling but not me with immersion) tend to break the mood. Also, this story could easily be (and should be) read in one sitting but, for various reasons, it took me two days and several reading sessions for me to complete the story. These things somewhat lessened the enjoyment for me somewhat, but not much. A fantasy fan who can read this in one sitting would easily rate this as a five-star story.

Coraline” is the well-deserved winner of, among other awards, the 2003 Hugo Award for best novella. The book includes cool and suitably dark drawings by frequent Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

10 Comments on REVIEW: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

  1. Fred Kiesche // February 13, 2005 at 3:06 pm //

    I agree, it was a good book. I tried a couple of Gaiman’s books previous to this and was never able to finish them. This one I enjoyed the heck out of.

  2. The other Gaiman books I’ve read (haven’t read this one) and liked are: Neverland, American Gods and, with Pratchett, Good Omens. I really liked American Gods, it had a Tim Powers feel throughout. The only thing is I felt the ending didn’t live up to the rest of the book. YMMV.

  3. GREAT book; trippy. Gaiman’s one of my favorites. If I was 8 and read this book, I could never look at a lump of dough, or buttons, the same way again.

  4. O.K., JP, you talked me into it. I picked up “American Gods” today based on your Powers comparison. If I like it, I’ll tackle “Neverwhere” one more time.

  5. THis book was amazing!!!!! i loved it!!!!!!!!!! :D:D I was really empressed by coraline’s intelligence and courage !!! i give my biggest congratulations to the author Neil Gaiman!!!! thank you:-P (H) ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. this was my favorite book:-P

  7. ThiS wAs The bEsT BOOK I HED EVER READ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    KeEp uP tHe GoOd BOokS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. You all notice how certain postings attract certain styles of commentary of a vast amount of depth and substance?


  9. i dont like this book it wasnt that interting…… IT WAS REALLT BORING HER LIFE SUCKS .NOTHIN GOOD ABOUT IT:-@:-@:O|-)8o|:-S:^):-$

  10. hi?? gonna go .. but im gonna give a comments.

    if agree u put agree syc like that k??

    i loved the part that the end was interesting\

    but sometimes it was boring~!:):D:O

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