Astute readers might have noticed that the theme of this wordpress blog is called ‘Coraline’. The more astute of you out there might note that this was a recent stop-motion film (made in 2009, directed by Henry Selick). The even more astute of you will know that the film was based on a Neil Gaiman novella of the same name. I would like to take the timely opportunity presented by the upcoming All Hallow’s Eve to sing the praises of this weird and wonderful British author – who, incidentally, is promoting a Hallowe’en reading scheme, involving “dropping” your favourite spooky book somewhere around town for others to find and read.
Gaiman has a wickedly dark imagination, and many of his books explore alternate worlds that lurk just out of sight. ‘Neverwhere’, originally written as a BBC serial television programme, now available in novel form, charts one man’s journey through ‘London Below’, a disconcerting otherworld inhabited by characters that have slipped through the gaps of society and are invisible to the denizens of ‘our’ London. The book, besides being a gripping adventure narrative, presents a thoughtful take on homelessness and peels back the layers of metropolis London to reveal the city’s lurking dark side. Those familiar with England’s capital will enjoy Gaiman’s use of the tube network; in ‘London Below’, many of the place names that Londoners take for granted (Angel Islington, Blackfriars, Knightsbridge) take on new and frightening forms.
Coraline follows a similar ‘alternate world’ theme. Having moved into a new flat with her busy working parents, the heroine (in the model of Carroll’s Alice) discovers a mysterious key that unlocks the route to a flat identical to her own, inhabited by the Other Mother and the Other Father – both perfect replicas of her parents, except that they have button eyes, and, unlike her real mum and dad, they seem to be fully focused on Coraline’s every need. The Other Mother makes her favourite meals, and they have time to listen to her stories. Her strange neighbours put on entertaining theatre and circus shows solely for Coraline’s amusement. But she quickly discovers a darker side to this Other world, and upon returning to her own flat, she realises her parents are missing, and only she can save them.
Gaiman also excels at the short story form; his 1998 collection, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, contains a multitude of wild and wonderful imaginings that are perfect for Hallowe’en reading. Particularly good are those stories that are based on familiar fairy stories but given a unique twist. His retelling of the Snow White tale ‘Snow, Glass, Apples’ will definitely change your perspective on a story that is ingrained in the minds of many. (After all, can you really trust a girl who can still, whilst seemingly dead, entice a prince to fall in love with her?) And if you enjoy this, you must try Angela Carter’s short story collection, ‘The Bloody Chamber’.
Whilst I love the whimsy involved, and agree with the ideological spirit of sharing books in the way that the All Hallows Read proposes, I’m afraid I won’t be leaving any Gaiman books round Zurich for people to find, because the truth is I couldn’t bear to part with them. But, consider this a virtual bookdrop for Hallowe’en – and pick up a Gaiman book this weekend!