Coraline Halloween review book cover
Book Reviews

Happy Halloween! | Coraline | Book Review

By Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury Publishing)

The old man leaned down, so close that the bottom of his moustache tickled Coraline’s ear. ‘The mice have a message for you,’ he whispered.

Coraline didn’t know what to say.

‘The message is this. Don’t go through the door.

Coraline is about a young girl who is drawn into another world; a world like her own but so much better, one that is more colourful, more interesting, where the food is tastier and the residents get her name right for a change! The problem is that her “other mother” really doesn’t want to let Coraline return back to her own world and her own parents…and will do anything to keep her there.

When deciding on a suitable review for Halloween, Neil Gaiman’s books immediately sprang to mind. This was by no means the first time I have read Coraline (and it definitely won’t be the last), but I knew it was the right choice. Like all of Gaiman’s books, it has rich imagery, relatable characters and a storyline that just won’t let you put it down.

Coraline is recognisable for every bored child, and every parent who has ever had to deal with a bored child. She is inquisitive, adventurous and a little frustrating at times, though in a believable and charming way. She is imbued with all the confidence of a child; when told by her tea leaves that she is “in danger”, she thinks that it sounds exciting! And yet, at times you are reminded that she is still young and fragile – there is a point, relatively early on, when she is struck by how bad the situation is and cries in her empty house, and it is truly heart-breaking. She tells the cat that true bravery is doing the thing when you actually feel scared, and it is safe to say that Coraline is one of the bravest protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about.

The rest of the book is filled with an array of interesting characters that translate well into their otherworldly counterparts. Even as they shoo her away (they have work to do after all!), you still get a real sense of care from both of her parents. Just like everything else though, the people are also “improved” in the other place; from her other parents who pay attention to her all the time, to the old duo of ex-starlets who give dramatic productions in their theatre every day. And that’s not even mentioning the man with the rat circus!

Coraline is joined on her adventures by a cat (who has no name, since cats don’t need them), who is sarcastic and acerbic, but the perfect balance to Coraline’s naivety. Like most cats, he is aloof but also likes attention and being pandered to. He is also our glimpse into what is going on at a deeper level, being able to divulge little tidbits about this “other place” and its inhabitants. I found myself breathing a sigh of relief whenever he turned up, feeling as if Coraline is somehow a little safer in his presence.

The other mother is really what makes the book however, almost literally. Without spoiling anything, I can say that she essentially runs the “other place”, and it shows! The other place is reflective of what a child might want on a superficial level, such as a bedroom painted green and pink, or a cupboard only full of dressing up clothes, without any deeper thought of what a child might actually need or enjoy in the long-term. The other mother’s attitude is both strangely caring and terrifying, and Gaiman paints a fantastic image of how her actions affect the world around her, such as the way things fall apart when she gets angry. She could almost be sympathetic, if she didn’t just feel so fantastically…evil. (To clarify: I don’t think that she is as such, but her actions certainly give you that impression!)

Coraline Halloween review: other mother with key
McKean’s illustrations really bring the other mother to life. We’re not sure if this is actually a good thing.

This particular edition of the book is accompanied by illustrations by Dave McKean – this is not the first time that the two have collaborated, and I personally welcome every entry into their joint works. McKean’s illustrations often have a dark, almost jarring feel to them, which is ideal to accompany a story where everything is somewhat off-kilter (perhaps an understatement!). No doubt the other illustrated versions add their own spin and flair but, for me, McKean’s is perfect.

The book is a good length to read with children, perhaps over a few nights, but do take into account how they feel about spooky stories. It’s not a tale stuffed full of jump scares, but it does have some rather creepy imagery, so best to keep that in mind!

Since it is Halloween, it would also be remiss of us not to add that a movie of the book exists as well, by Laika, a stop-motion animation studio. There are a few changes to the story and characters but, overall, we think it’s a good adaptation. We’d definitely recommend reading the book first though!