Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Coraline

Coraline by P. Craig Russell
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's review
Aug 05, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011-goal-list, cuy-co-pub-lib, finished
Read on February 16, 2011 , read count: 1

Neil Gaiman, Coraline: The Graphic Novel (HarperCollins, 2008)

My main reaction to this book was utter confusion. Not because of the book itself, which I quite liked, but it's been a few years since I read Coraline, and Henry Selick's film version is a great deal fresher in my memory than Gaiman's novel. And so I got to the graphic novel, dug into it, and started wondering where all the little touches Selick had added to the film (which I must say I enjoyed just as much as the novel upon which it is based) had gone. Which probably says a lot more about Selick than it does about Gaiman, and a lot more about me than about Selick. Just be aware that Selick did add things to the movie, and those things aren't here (along with, understandably, a good deal of the original novel; this is a 186-page graphic adaptation, it's not going to be complete).

I'm going to make an assumption here I probably shouldn't: that you have either read the original novel or seen the Henry Selick movie based upon it. If you haven't, go do so now. I'll wait.

Okay, while we're waiting for the slowpokes, I do think you'll get more out of this if you've read (preferably) or seen (or both) the fuller version of the story. Not to say this isn't good, but let's face it, this is Neil Gaiman. There can never be too much Neil Gaiman, and given that, a fuller story is better. When you've read it, then, the draw of the graphic novel is Russell's illustrations, and my review is based not on the story itself (one can find out what I think about the story in my April 2004 review of the novel or my June 2009 review of the film, both of which also got four stars), but Russell's work here, which is of course the new bit. (Not to take anything away from Dave McKean, whose illustrations in the original novel were fantastic; McKean is one of my favorite illustrators, viz. my gushing review of Cages.)

Every time I review some version of this, I come back to Gaiman's hypothesis in the novel's afterword that children will see it as an adventure novel, while adults will think of it as a horror story. The film version of it was unambiguous in that regard; it was horror all the way. Russell, I think, took Gaiman's idea more to heart, and while there's no doubt the illustrations in here are creepy, they're not the full-on horror assault Selick went for (and succeeded in achieving). There's more of the feel of the adventure tale in the graphic novel, and that's a good thing; Russell figured out how to correctly strike the balance. There was some streamlining done, of course, and you have to expect that something like this is going to be focusing primarily on the high points, and that's where Russell all the sudden gets interesting. Yes, there's the high-point focus, but instead of the usual “let's strip this down to the moralization”, Russell's version of “high points” focuses on some of the murkier moral questions to be found in the tale, and I like that. I like it a great deal. (Though of course the moralization high point must win through at the end, or you'd have a fundamentally different product. But my point is that that's not ALL that's left of Coraline's moral quandary, as might have been the case with a lesser adaptation.) A more slapdash effort would have landed on someone's desk and been sent back with the dictum “more talking cat!” or something silly like that, but the adventure/horror nexus is not the only place Russell achieved balance. Bravo.

This is good stuff indeed. Again, I'd tell you to read the book or see the film first and use this more as a companion piece, but a good one it is. ****

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