Disturbing visions

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Neil Gaiman Coraline and Other Stories Bloomsbury Publishing 2009

This is a collection of eleven Gaiman short stories (and one poem) repackaged for the young reader market. The novella Coraline is added to Bloomsbury’s earlier Gaiman collection M for Magic, while M for Magic was itself a throwing together of disparate tales, some from the adult collection Smoke and Mirrors, some from other publications, all deemed suitable to send a chill down pre-teen, teen and, of course, adult readers. So the moral is, if you already have these titles in your library you may want to pass on this ‘new’ title.

Or then again, you might not. This is a good place to include the almost flawless Coraline together with the other chillers about the fears and bogeys that haunt the childish and not so childish imagination, deliciously presented in a volume with pages that are black-edged and including Dave McKean’s original nightmarish illustrations for Coraline. This story about a girl (don’t call her ‘Caroline’) who finds a way into a parallel house where her mother has been replaced by a sinister figure with buttons for eyes is both a terrifying and yet satisfying modern equivalent of all those Grimm fairytales, such as Hansel and Gretel, with their bewitching and unspeakable devouring figures.

Outstanding are the pieces that bring horror (and sometimes humour) rather too close to home; Troll Bridge, Don’t Ask Jack, Chivalry, The Price and The Witch’s Headstone, whether set in the UK or the States, all remind the reader that the veil separating reality and the supernatural may be awfully thin. Less engaging but just as skilfully written are the more alien, fantastic or futuristic stories such as How to Sell the Ponti Bridge and Sunbird; these are more for those who have leanings towards genre fiction, but they are still rooted in a rich Western cultural heritage.

Gaiman is a master at bringing the unexpected to the seemingly banal; don’t read this if you don’t ever want to have his disturbing visions floating up to your consciousness unbidden.

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4 thoughts on “Disturbing visions

    1. He may well be familiar with those spine-tinglers like A Touch of Chill and A Bundle of Nerves (I must re-read those!) as he certainly was an admirer and friend of Diana Wynne Jones, who also rated Joan’s writing.

      Hadn’t heard of Not what you expected but I see from a not entirely complimentary Kirkus review that this combines selections from A Harp of Fishbones, A Small Pinch of Weather and All and More, and as I’ve got the first two and All But a Few I’m hopeful I’m not missing too much in not getting it!

      The review on amazon.com suggested that her stories had the “mythical atmosphere of Neil Gaiman”, but thought that “Gaiman’s stories often seem all hollow atmosphere and no purpose”. Oh dear, damned with rather more than faint praise!

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