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Coraline    by Neil Gaiman order for
by Neil Gaiman
Order:  USA  Can
HarperTrophy, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

This is billed as Neil Gaiman's first children's tale. It is no such thing. What it is, is a true fairy tale, and like the very best of those it hovers on the edge of horror, restrained only by the heroic efforts of schoolgirl Coraline (not Caroline) and of course of a friend she makes during her adventures, a haughty black cat.

Coraline has recently moved with her parents (who, in a modern touch, work from home on their computers) into part of a huge old house. Coraline is reasonably happy at first - if only her father wouldn't cook gourmet dinners which she detests - exploring the house and grounds and meeting the other occupants; two ageing actresses with their ageing Highland terriers, and the old man who lives in the attic, and claims he is training mice for a circus. But soon she begins to get bored, and one wet day, being driven to count all the doors, windows, and everything blue, (14, 21, and 153 respectively) she finds that the 14th door has been bricked up. Thus challenged, she keeps opening it and one day finds that the bricks are gone, and through the door is a corridor, which smells like something very old and slow, and which leads into a very different world.

This world is very like her own, except that it is very different. She meets her other mother and father, who look like her real parents but have paper-white skin and black button eyes. They want to keep Coraline forever as their own little girl, and give her a pink and green bedroom filled with fascinating toys, such as flying angels and teeth-chattering dinosaurs. When Coraline decides to go back, she can't find her parents in her own world , until she glimpses a mirror-image of them and realizes that they are trapped. So she has to pluck up her courage and go back to the other world to rescue them. When she does so, she finds herself trapped in a nightmare.

Coraline is a convincing character; brave, confident and resourceful when necessary, but easily bored, complaining to her parents and mouthing off when nothing interesting is happening. Fairly typical, in fact. The story is accented by rather frightening ink sketches by illustrator Dave McKean, who has collaborated with Gaiman before. Coraline is not really a children's book, though I have no doubt that many children will love it, as they loved the old fairy tales. Very highly recommended.

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