Re-Read: Coraline (Neil Gaiman)

Coraline is a children’s novel by Neil Gaiman. My edition comes with illustrations by Dave McKean.
Finished on: 23.11.2016
[Here’s my first “review”.] [Here’s my review of the movie adaptation.]

Coraline Jones moves with her parents to a new house. Her parents are always busy so Coraline is left to explore things alone. One day she discovers a hidden door in her house and when she goes through, she meets her Other Mother, who is everything a child could hope for and more. But her Other Mother has buttons for her eyes. She wants Coraline to stay, but for that, Coraline will need to give up her eyes as well.

I did a small analysis of Coraline (book and movie version) for uni, so I re-read and re-watched both. And I really enjoyed reading the book again, even though I look at some things more critically now than when I read it the first time.

Coraline builds on a really good and really creepy idea and is a very quick read. Gaiman draws you into this world and leads you through it so smoothly that you barely notice how quickly you reach the end of the story. While I was completely taken in during my first read and taken up with how much I loved Coraline, this time round there were a couple of things that didn’t work for me that well.

For one, I would have liked it if the the two Ms. who live in the basement of Coraline’s house had been lovers instead of sisters. But just to leave no doubt that they really are straight, although they are unmarried and live together, there’s even a scene where one of them reminisces to Coraline about how she misses the attention from men.

It was also weird that Mr Bobo doesn’t actually get a name until practically the end of the book. He, as a character, also struck me as even stranger than the first time round.

But the thing that got me the most was the take on femininity Coraline (the novel) presents. The Other Mother is ultimately an infertile woman – who can’t create anything – and that leads directly to her stealing children to love, albeit in a very wrong way. And the infertile woman as monster thing really isn’t what you’d call a feminist take on women and womanhood. Especially since it’s juxtaposed with a “not like other girls”-girl in Coraline. It both condemns being femme, and makes sure that it’s clear that you’re only a real woman if you’re fertile. And that in a book that has an excellent heroine at its center.

It’s an intriguing, if not unproblematic mix and it’s fun to analyse it more closely. But it’s also fun to just read the story and let yourself be scared. Which is easily done with McKean’s great illustrations, if the story isn’t enough for you.

Summarizing: Recommended reading.

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