Adventures in Reading


Fiction: Coraline by Neil Gaiman, 2008
December 16, 2008, 2:50 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,


On a rainy day in her new home, Coraline Jones’ mother shows her a door that opens to a brick wall. But over a stretch of the overcast and final days leading up to a new school year, Coraline discovers a hallway through the door identical to her own home that leads to her apartment, her house, her yard. It’s a strange world slightly off kilter from Coraline’s reality and here she meets her other mother and other father: strange likenesses of her parents with buttons for eyes (and that want to sew Coraline’s eyes closed). When Coraline’s real parents go missing, she must return through the door to save them.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a children’s horror book written with children in mind, for children, and with the structural simplicity of children’s books. Coraline has thematic issues of losing and rescuing parents, searching for home, and exterior and interior realities. And it’s all a bit gruesome as the world is slightly off and includes button-eyed people, rats (enough to creep me out), and a hand that chases Coraline. I will say from reading the quotes on the book jacket I expected something stupendous and I thought it was fair (though I do look forward to the movie). I found it similar to Vivian French’s Robe of Skulls.

Conclusion: Tossed.



R.I.P. Challenge: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”

I reread Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein using the same Dover edition from my sophomore year in high school that I originally read from. It’s a green and read marbled cover that looks very much like cellular globules drifting. I also discovered the very likely reason why I’ve disliked this book for so long: my teacher at the time, though I loved the woman, had us highlighting and underlining nearly every thing on every page. Fortunately, this time around I really enjoyed the novel.

Victor Frankenstein is an astute, curious, and persistent man and his eventual chemical expertise, attached with some early philosophies, develops a desire in him to recreate life. He brings forth his monster or his dæmon, which he immediately abandons. The monster, now alone and wretched, haunts and begins to manipulate and destroy those around Victor. The book is written with an interesting frame structure with letters from R. Walton to his sister, within this is Victor’s own narrative of events, and within this is the monster’s telling of his life.

I read the 1831 republication of the novel rather than the original 1818 version (which I am quite interested in reading too). While “the core and substance of it [is] untouched,” according to Shelley, section dividers have lapsed and some more aggressive plot points have been removed, or so I’ve read.

Frankenstein is an easy book to read for the simple enjoyment of reading. Film adaptations have over-glamorized the monster and scientific aspects of the book as Shelley deals with these on a much more emotional and internal level. Victor always appears on the edge of sanity. Despite being an interesting narrative, Shelley’s complex themes and questions are equally potent: When does science go too far? Where does responsibility begin and end?

Conclusion: Keeper.

Other thoughts: marireads, Becky’s Book Reviews, Hidden Side of the Leaf, Pardon My French, just what you want…, Raising Pennsylvania, and Book Nut.



Roald Dahl & A Curious Singularity

I was quite pleased when I stumbled onto the group blog A Curious Singularity, which explores one short story a month. As of April 15th, discussion is focused on Roald Dahl’s “The Way up to Heaven” and I have weighed in. And for a clickless examination:

When I came to the final lines of “The Way up to Heaven” by Roald Dahl I admit I gave a great yelp that startled my boyfriend on the other end of the house. To say the least, I had not seen the conclusion coming. “The Way up to Heaven” looks at the relationship of a somewhat neurotic older woman and her frightful husband. She is terrified of being late and he seems to rather plague her condition, and the morning of her flight to Paris offers a perfect moment for observation.

As someone who often frets about running late, I identified with Mrs. Foster from the start but it is complete credit to Dahl who builds the anxiety and stress in the story. As Mrs. Foster paces the hall and pesters the butler Walker for the time I felt the impatience rising and figuratively stamped my foot and wondered: “Where the hell are you Mr. Foster?” When Mr. Foster arrives, the contrast between him and his wife contributes further to the story: Mrs. Foster is very much a small and fretful sparrow bobbing around and Mr. Foster is perfectly described as “like a squirrel standing there – a quick clever old squirrel from the Park.”

Mr. Foster antagonizes the situation as he seemingly goes out of his way to upset his wife. Though Mrs. Foster doesn’t allow herself to believe that the man “consciously torment[s] her,” she finally the second day she is meant to catch the plane after a delayed flight. After repetitive haranguing Mrs. Foster acts in a supposed passive aggressive nature as she urges the chauffeur to leave for the airport without her husband.

Perhaps though as with the often used caricature of the absent minded and oblivious husband, Mr. Foster is earnestly unaware of his wife’s “pathological fear.” While abundant textual evidence exists to disagree, Dahl does ensure the tantalizing suggestion that perhaps Mr. Foster is innocent. Mr. Foster is described as having “a right to be irritated by this foolishness” or that “it is by no means certain that this is what he did” and even a parenthetical reference of “(though one cannot be sure).” While all other evidence leads to a contrary belief, Dahl does ensure some seeds of doubt leading up to Mrs. Foster’s action.

Regardless of Mr. Foster’s nature, the end of the story clearly marks Mrs. Foster’s intent. While what early on appears as a passive aggressive abandoning of her husband evolves into a rather calculated and monstrous conclusion. I didn’t gain the full effect until my second reading but after this act her voice becomes authoritative and her mouth hardens. During her stay in Paris she feels “remarkably strong” and “wonderful.” While Mrs. Foster cannot be positive of the outcome until her return the reoccurring remark of “‘Now be sure to take your meals regularly, dear, although this is something I’m afraid you may not be doing when I’m not with you’” that concludes her letters reeks of dark humor.

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