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Coraline back

Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russel


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"For tea she went down to see Misses Spink and Forcible. She had three digestive biscuits and a glass of limeade. It tasted bright green and vaguely chemical.
"She liked it enormously."

As I've said before, Neil knows exactly how to get inside the mind of a child of any particular age, see the world through their eyes and then communicate it in just the right language and in just the right tone: eager to explore and quick to grow bored; constantly demanding things yet not really wanting them; a little bit stroppy but alive at the wonder of things. Pushing boundaries. Here he captures their sense of time: there's so very much of it, it passes so slowly and it needs to be filled with expeditions and play. In fact, this could be another lesson in parenting (see THE DAY I SWAPPED ME DAD FOR TWO GOLDFISH), suggesting that mothers and fathers should pay more attention to their kids and interact with them more, but should they? Playing on your own is exactly what sparks the young imagination into escapades like this, and in the long term helps produce these very sorts of books.

Coraline has just moved into a house - a great big house with expansive grounds full of tall trees, lush thickets and even its own well, which always bodes ill, doesn't it? It's such a grand house it's been divided into flats, none of whose dotty old denizens can get Coraline's name right. In the flat below hers are two retired stage luvvies, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, with their menagerie of aging Highland Terriers. Above is a man trying to train a mouse circus he won't let Coraline see:

"You asked me why you cannot see it now. Is that what you asked me, little Caroline?"
"No. I asked you not to call me Caroline. It's Coraline."
"The reason you cannot see the mouse circus is that the mice are not ready or rehearsed. All the songs I have written for the mice to play go Oompah Oompah. But the white mice will only play Toodle Oodle, like that. I am thinking of trying them on different types of cheese."

Finally there's the empty flat on the same floor as Coraline's, to which there's a door now bricked up. Still, perhaps her mother should have locked it again.

What follows is a nightmare journey into a parallel world in which she finds her "other parents" who have buttons for eyes and two more buttons with a needle and thread sitting ominously on the kitchen table. She doesn't want to stay. But when Coraline finds her real parents trapped in a mirror she knows that fight rather than flight is the only solution, and to do so she'll have to accept a challenge...

There are overt nods to Lewis Carroll, like the talking cat, aloof and contrary ("There are those who have suggested that the tendency of a cat to play with its prey is a merciful one. After all, it permits the occasional funny little running snack to escape from time to time. How often does your dinner get to escape?") but the rest is all Gaiman's own, or rather P. Craig Russell has made it his own. Aside from the sheer majesty of the art itself - shape, shadow and line in perfect harmony; a huge sense of space and a great sense of place - he knows that time and timing is everything. There's rarely more than a sentence per panel, and there are imaginative little sequences that wouldn't occur to others, like Coraline assuaging her hunger:

"So she made herself some toast...
"... with ham and peanut butter...
"... and drank a glass of water."

Three panels, all from her own sense of perspective, turning what could have been a simple single panel into an episodic adventure of its own. And again, Gaiman knows exactly what he's doing there. I know it's an adaptation of his existing prose story for children, but with Russell (and Kindzierski with exceptional colours) on board now it's one of the finest things I've read by Neil for quite some time, with a flashback involving Coraline's father and wasps which exemplifies to me just what bravery is.

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