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By Neil Gaiman and illustrated by P. Craig Russell


192 pp.

In these competitive scholastic times, I hold out a pinch of hope that the motionless library-goer absorbed in a biomechanics textbook has secretly hollowed out the pages to accommodate a read that’s a little more sinister. If you are living such a dream, I would like to share a new addition to the canon of textbook refugees: P. Craig Russell’s graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. In the tradition of opening a mysterious and forbidden door, a bored young Coraline discovers a parallel life on the Other side—one where Father’s chicken is never dry and where Mother always wants to play.

Yet these idyllic caretakers fast reveal more nefarious qualities. With black buttons for eyes and a penchant for ensnaring and starving the souls of disobedient children, the ever-mutating Mother—whose demonic visage is presented with particularly sublime rough inconsistency by Russell—insists that Coraline must have her own eyes replaced as an act of filial loyalty. Although possibly poor form, the graphic disparities among frames add to the frustration of Coraline’s quest. She is the only consistently depicted character in Russell’s interpretation, a nod to the immortality of girlish awesomeness that was downplayed in Gaiman’s original novella. When Coraline objects to the demands of this uncanny world, she finds herself on a heroic rescue mission to release her real parents from the Others’ ensnaring underworld of rat kings and sideshow horrors.

With all the female empowerment of Matilda and the spine-tingling greasiness of Goosebumps, Coraline befits those academically anemic winter evenings when tree-fingers ravish the windows and the tea tastes a tad funny. Notably, the adolescent Coraline has further developed from children’s novella and graphic novel, blossoming into an animated feature under the direction of Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare before Christmas). And with that tiny Fanning girl voicing Coraline, Gaiman’s vision just got that much creepier.

—Robyn Smith

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

By Margaret Atwood

House of Anansi Press

230 pp.

At first glance, getting answers on the credit crisis from a celebrated Canadian author may only land you further in the red.

But Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth isn’t a guide to getting out of debt. It’s an account of the role debt has played in human mythology, literature and society.

Payback is Atwood’s turn as the star of the annual CBC Massey Lectures series. The lectures are taped in five one-hour radio segments and published as a book afterwards.The book’s central thesis portrays debt not as a financial construct, but as a sociological phenomenon—present for centuries and intrinsically built into all of our relationships—that has led us to our current global predicament.

“It’s about debt as a human construct—thus an imaginative construct—and how this construct mirrors and magnifies both voracious human desire and ferocious human fear,” Atwood’s introduction states.

Following this ominous beginning, Atwood takes us on a journey through debt’s role in religion, literature and today’s society that, as it progresses, distressingly resembles the dystopian novels we usually associate with her name.

In the book’s five parts Atwood sheds light on our age-old human sense of “fairness,” explores the extensive connection between debt and sin, looks at debt as “a governing leitmotif of Western fiction” (she says Doctor Faustus and Ebenezer Scrooge are reverse images of each other) and touches on the nastier side of debtor/creditor relationships.

The book’s final part—a hilarious 21st-century retelling of Scrooge’s journey in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—puts humanity’s current plight in perspective with a satirical edge.

Atwood’s biting, dark sense of humour makes for an entertaining read that is nonetheless chock-full of interesting analysis. Her exploration of the concept of “owing” as it appears in literature, religion and everyday life is unprecedented and refreshing. Payback may not help you balance your books, but it might change the way you think about paying your next credit card bill.

—Michael Woods

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