Fiction Review

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  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Publisher: HaperCollins Children
  • Pages: 176
  • Price: $15.99


SANDMAN creator Neil Gaiman's latest book, CORALINE, is children's literature with an edge

By Chris Wyatt     June 15, 2002

Cover art for Neil Gaiman's CORALINE
© 2002 Harper Collins/EOS
Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS was the best genre book of last year. This summer Gaiman's back, not with a GODS follow-up, but rather with a delightfully creepy children's novel called CORALINE. The book's title character is a little girl who moves into a new apartment with her parents. Coraline loves exploring, but her examinations of the new building, and its grounds, lead her to believe that something unusual is going on. Soon she finds herself in a struggle to free her mom and dad from the clutches of the twistedly maternal being that lives on the other side of a mysterious door.

Gaiman has written comic books. He's written television shows, adult novels, a young child's picture book, a collection of short stories and he's even written, of all things, a celebrity biography. It's possible that he's turned to young adult fiction simply because it's the only category of publishing for which he hasn't already written something.

While it's true that Gaiman hasn't ever written a children's novel before, it isn't really correct to say that CORALINE is a departure for him. There's no sex or explicit violence, but other than that, the book is similar in feel to any number of Gaiman's adult fiction, particularly STARDUST.

Gaiman, while always focusing his work on the mythological constructs, constantly explores new forms and new territories. It's a compliment to say that his seemingly personal work is always stylistically consistent without being unoriginal. CORALINE is the same way...In other words, CORALINE will remind you of Gaiman's body of fiction, without making you feel like you've read it all before.

Neal Gaiman's CORALINE, illustrations by Dave McKean

As the plot progresses one can begin to see influences from classic children's stories. Gaiman particularly draws on Lewis Carroll's ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Coraline is a gothic, modern Alice. Like Alice, Coraline must travel into a mirror world where there waits a sometimes silly, sometimes threatening version of her normal life. Like Alice, Coraline is constantly having her identity called into question. Like Alice, Coraline's only source of knowledge about her surreal environs is a cryptic talking cat. And ultimately, like Alice, Coraline must confront the matriarchal ruler of the twisted fantasy world in order to return to reality.

The influences are strong (whether or not they were consciously included), yet the book doesn't suffer for it. Just because you can trace the origins of certain elements of CORALINE doesn't mean that the book feels used up or tired. In fact, it only adds a layer of complexity to Gaiman's mythological work. If, as critics suppose, myth is simply the interesting, contemporary retelling of a certain set of stories and morals, then Gaiman proves with CORALINE that he is truly a mythmaker.

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