"There isn't anywhere but here. This is all she made: the house, the grounds, and the people in the house. She made it and she waited..."
This is the fourth book I've read for R.I.P. VIII this year - and despite it being the only children's book on the list so far, it's also the one that's freaked me out the most. NO WORD OF A LIE. (Just as a reminder, the previous three have involved a crossbow-wielding teenager, a serial killer with a Mother complex, and a town full of murderous geniuses with robot wives.)
I think the key to this one's freak-out potential lies in Neil Gaiman's intuitive understanding of the fairytale tropes that have been chilling generations of children for years: the disruption of the safety of home, the fear of monsters, the thought of a nasty interloper taking the place of one of our beloved parents (see: every evil stepmother ever)... I don't think anyone ever really forgets those fears, ever really loses them completely, so they have as much power to get under our skin as adults as they did when we were tiny!
The book is about our little protagonist, the titular Coraline, and a trip through a doorway in her new house that winds up with her being trapped in a kind of warped mirror world. In this mirror world strange and mysterious things happen - cats can talk, and toys come alive, and whole tone is generally a bit Alice in Wonderland - and the household is presided over not by her true mother, but by the dark Other Mother, with her long red-nailed fingers and black button eyes. Coraline has to use every ounce of her ingenuity and courage, and her budding skills as an explorer, to outwit the Other Mother and restore herself and her true parents to their real home on the other side of the doorway.
I've never seen the film, but I can genuinely say that the Other Mother is one of the most terrifying characters I've ever come across. Having seen this picture, I may NEVER watch the film, because I think if I saw the walking, talking version I'd have nightmares for months:
See what I mean? The illustrations by Dave McKean in the book aren't much less creepy, to be honest, but at least they're not in glorious technicolour! A scene near the end, with frequent mentions of bone whiteness and tapping nails, accompanied by this picture: -
- was particularly nightmarish, and I was almost certain I'd end up dreaming about it. Fortunately some deeply inappropriate dreams about Ezra Miller won out, so I didn't end up scarred for life by my first Neil Gaiman book after all...
Bottom line? I'm sure kids would love the Roald-Dahl-crossed-with-Stephen-King tone and little gruesome moments, while adults can appreciate the smirk-inducing tongue-in-cheek humour and lovely writing. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more Gaiman - maybe one of his adult novels next, and hopefully something a little less likely to scar my inner six year-old for life!
- "There's nothing like hot chocolate and a hug for making the nightmares go away."
- "...when you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave."
- "For a moment she felt utterly dislocated. She did not know where she was; she was not entirely sure who she was. It is astonishing just how much of what we are can be tied to the beds we wake up in in the morning, and it is astonishing how fragile that can be."
- "... it is always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see."
Source: I'm not actually sure WHERE I found this one! Maybe I nicked it from the shop, or bought it in a charity shop? I DON'T KNOW!