""Good afternoon," said the cat.
Its voice sounded like the voice at the back of Coraline's head, the voice she thought words in, but a man's voice, not a girl's.
"Hello," said Coraline. "I saw a cat like you in the garden at home. You must be the other cat."
The cat shook its head. "No," it said. "I'm not the other anything. I'm me." It tipped its head to one side; green eyes glinted. "You people are all spread all over the place. Cats, on the other hand, keep ourselves spread together. If you see what I mean."
I don't know why, but I very distinctly remember reading much of this book and not enjoying it. For the life of me, I cannot remember what kind of a mood I was in while I was riffling through this book's pages, but to say that, having finished it years later while in a children's lit class, I have quite a different impression of it.
I love the movie, but the two are quite different in some ways. The movie, while not being a faithful representation of the book, is not in any way something that should be considered bad. On the contrary - the movie adaptation is one of the movies that I would foist on a child's guardian as a truly imaginative diversion, right up there with Spirited Away or The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The stories do, however, differ in some manners, lighter in some and heavier in others. The addition of the other child that Coraline becomes friends with, Coraline's personality is also more "child-like" and bubbly than she is in the book. Neither interpretations are worse or better, in my opinion - I personally make a trade-off that I prefer Coraline's slightly muted and more fairy-tale like personality in the original, but I really like Coraline's child friend in the movie so much that I find it hard to believe that he wasn't in the original, he was so well integrated in the movie.
That being said - what is Coraline?
Well - dark, with a trademark imagination at the heart of the story that is indicative of Neil Gaiman at his best, filled with shockingly disturbing and amazing art, courtesy of Dave McKean, Coraline is the type of story that I would give to a mature ten year-old who yawns at the prospect of reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark for a certified perfect reading experience. This is a story that was heavily influenced by the tradition of Grimm's Brothers fairytales, but with an utterly distinct style that Gaiman infuses the tradition with. The professor that I had my children's lit class with asserted that this story shows an evolution in the fairy tale - showing bare descriptions of locations and secondary characters while using traditional tropes and storytelling.
Where Gaiman splits from tradition is the manner in which he portrays Coraline and the world that she inhabits; although their is the connotation that wandering and exploring is what leads her into the problems that she falls prey to (quite literally), there is no true set of rules or prohibitions that any adults in her world place to protect her. Her parents aren't "great parents", at least in the traditional sense; they seem to always be too busy to spend much time or pay much attention to their daughter - they provide for her needs, but they are usually too busy working to do the June Cleaver routine. And, you know - Gaiman seems to suggest a surprising amount of maturity inherent in his protagonist that allows her to take care of herself most of the time pretty well. Gaiman seems to suggest that it isn't totally a bad thing that Coraline has to exert a good deal of maturity in her life.
The situation that transpires is darkly imaginative (I feel as though I use this description a lot for this story, but I can't think of another way to describe the story in a better fashion) and I love the other characters that live in the house with Coraline's family.
If there's any problem I have with the book (and, maybe, it was a big part of why I stopped reading this when I did, originally) it may be the pacing, which gets worse closer to the end of the book, but I can attribute this in part due to the fact that Gaiman may have been going for a sense of timelessness and the pacing inherent in a fairy tale structure. I'm still not sure, but I do know that I found it to be a troublesome part of completing the story - enough to really make me crawl through the last third of the story.
Make sure to read the book first before watching the movie, and I would recommend knowing as little about the plot before reading this. This is one of those stories where I wouldn't link any sort of a trailer to this review, because the margin for getting into spoiler territory is too wide.
What I'll do with this book - Save it, pass it down to my nephew (hopefully?)