I was at Kinokuniya the other day looking for some books to buy since it was the holiday season after all. There are some cycles in life that you cannot avoid, like the occasional indulgence in spending on yourself or pampering yourself. For me, one of those indulgences constitute spending freely at any bookstore. And on that day, that bookstore simply happened to be Kinokuniya. Of course, the 20% storewide discount for members certainly helped in nudging me to spend a little bit more. Just a little bit.
One of the books that I picked up instantly was Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. The reasons for picking it up, you ask? Simple. Neil Gaiman just happens to be one of my favorite authors, just happens I must I insist. I have never read Sandman before so I have no idea of his celebrity-author status. I’m not exactly a fan of graphic novels anyway, at least the Western ones that is. I have no objections to Japanese manga though. Moving on, I picked up my first Gaiman novel, Neverwhere, solely based on the cover design itself, which will perhaps be another story-in-the-telling (by the way, it’s the version published by Headline Books).
Similarly I bought Coraline because the cover was too attractive for me even though my instincts tell me not to. After all, I’m buying a children’s fairytale and I must say that I do not really like fairytales. But some of the one-sentence blurbs on the cover insisted me on picking it up.
“One of the most frightening books ever written.”
–New York Times Book Review
“Inventive, scary, thrilling, and finally affirmative.”
–Washington Post Book World
And on the first page:
“This book tells a fascinating and disturbing story that frightened me nearly to death.”
Those were but some of the quotes I found plastered lovingly all over the book. How could you not pick up the book with such quotes? A first-class horror fairytale? I think I’m game for that. So enough of my blabbering and let’s get on with the review.
Upon the first read, Coraline doesn’t really stand out from your average fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers. The prose in Coraline is deceptively simple, good enough for children. But recall, people, recall! Since when do we really have a horror fairy tale? Fairy tales are meant to put children to sleep and not to scare the wits out of them. You do not tell your child that there’s a monster hiding in the cupboard right before you sleep don’t you? And perhaps that very factor hints at the adult readers Gaiman is intent on capturing.
Our heroine goes trudging around her new house and stumbles upon a door that leads to nowhere, a door that is bricked up with the flat beyond it sealed off. Whose imagination wouldn’t run wild, you tell me? Throw an-offlimits area together with a child and you are bound to get trouble. At least I know I would if I was still a child. Even as rational adults, forbidden fruits always taste the sweetest, don’t they? Here, the presence of a female protagonist suggests the possibility of a a feminist reading of Coraline. The tale simply depicts a journey of self-discovery as attempted by Coraline. To the reader, she appears to be daring and brave. She is the rescuer of her trapped parents, the savior of her world.
Leaving the feminist reading aside, Coraline reads no different from a Gothic novella (if I may push the definitions a little) with its inclusion of terror into the fairy tale genre.
We have the explorer (Coraline the protagonist) who deviates from societal norms and in the end, ambiguously gets integrated back into society. We have the usual trafficking in dark places that Gothic fiction is famous for: dark corridors, weird-looking houses, bugs, dog-bats, in essence the supernatural. Binaries also exists. Everything that adults believe in (the parents work ceaselessly, ignoring Coraline), Coraline opposes. The mother wants to buy normal-looking school clothes for her while Coraline insists on getting green gloves.
All the above-mentioned devices certainly do not evoke a sense of terror in me however. Perhaps I am the jaded one, tired of all the horror stories I have read as a child. Or I must say that gothic fiction does not exactly work on me as it is theorized. Blame it on the circumstances and the inundation of media-assaults that we receive daily on our senses. Blame it on Ju-On. Blame it on Saw III. No longer does the terror in gothic work as well as the horror in those films. But still, one cannot fail to take a liking to the illustrations present in the book. Drawn by Dave McKean it perfectly conveys the creepiness of the book.
I do not know whether I should regret buying this book or not. But if you are a Neil Gaiman fan, go ahead and splurge on it for the very nice cover and the additional tibits inside the book. The publisher nicely included a section catered to Gaiman fans: there’s a bit of his history, another bit of why he wrote the book (ie the motivation for Coraline) and also A Conversation with Neil Gaiman . Nothing much though, just a few pages of tibits but like I said, if you are a diehard fan, go get the book at 20% discount in Kinokuniya Singapore. Storewide 20% off for members only. Today’s the last day though.
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Harper Perennial 2006 (reprint of a 2003 HarperTrophy edition)
Genre: Supernatural – Fiction
Bought @: Kinokuniya Singapore
Priced @: SGD$24.15
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Useful Links for Neil Gaiman’s Coraline
Neil Gaiman’s Coraline FAQ: Martha Soukup’s Interview with Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman’s Coraline Interactive Site