Neil Gaiman has been having a very good year, for about the tenth year in a row, writing fantasy for all ages and adapting it for other media. Coraline was his big success in 2003-04 as a short children’s novel, winning the Hugo, Locus, Nebula and other awards. It is already available as an audiobook, it is in production as an animated film and here it is as a graphic novel (a classy comic book, to those who think ‘graphic novel’ is pretentious). Does Coraline deserve this much attention? Absolutely.

Coraline is about ten years old. She and her parents have just moved into a flat in an old rambling house and she is spending her summer holidays exploring. One wet day a locked door that should have led nowhere opens into a mirror image of her flat, complete with ‘other mother’ and ‘other father’ who want her to stay with them for ever. ‘Other mother’, in fact, turns out to be the psychic equivalent of a spider, lurking on the edge of reality to capture unwary children and suck their souls dry, and Coraline has to summon all her resources to escape.

Coraline is for readers of about the heroine’s age, though many older readers will enjoy it. My only reservation is that it might be nightmare material for younger children: this is very powerful magic, with deep roots in fairy tale and myth. Russell’s adaptation preserves most of Gaiman’s words and his illustrations catch the atmosphere perfectly.

Marvellously scary.

Bloomsbury Children’s, August 2008, $24.95

Just by way of a footnote: When I said Neil Gaiman was 'having a very good year for about the tenth year in a row', I may have been understating his achievement. He is prolific and inventive, switches media (novels to comics to film-scripts) easily, writes equally well for adults and children, and collects major prizes at a rate which must drive his rivals nuts. See his Wikipedia bio for details.

And a postscript: The movie was released here in Australia mid-2009 and I have been to see it (of course!). It's brilliant but I think it is doomed to commercial failure: it looks like a cartoon and the central character is a child, so it looks like a children's movie, but it is just as disturbing as the book. So adults won't go because they believe it's a 'kiddie flick', and children and their parents won't go because the word-of-mouth will be negative; a shame, really.

Review originally published October 2008,
Page created March 2009,
updated Sept 2009.