August 2008

Arts & Letters

‘Tales from Outer Suburbia’ by Shaun Tan

By Danielle Wood

Shaun Tan's publisher shelves Tales from Outer Suburbia as Young Adult Fiction, while a local bookshop of mine has wedged its copies of these illustrated stories in the children's section, right next to Dr Seuss. Imagine my surprise at this, when all the time I was reading the book, I - a perfectly grown-up 35-year-old - thought it was written for me.

Just who Tan's work is supposed to be for, and which pigeonhole it refuses to sit tidily within, are questions that have come up often enough in the Western Australian writer-illustrator's stellar career to warrant him publishing, on his website, a lengthy manifesto in which he argues that it is up to a work of art to find its own audience.

Tales from Outer Suburbia, lavishly stocked with visual and verbal delights, is a book to which any reader might return, at a later age or stage, to find the resonance of its contents slightly altered.

There might be times when it is the playfulness and whimsy of Tan's Suburbia that most appeals. Then, you might particularly enjoy ‘Eric', the tale of an enigmatic foreign-exchange student who confounds his hosts with his interest in the minutiae of life; or ‘No Other Country', about the exotic and expansive hopes that can be contained within even the most modest of suburban homes.

There might be other times when it is Tan's precision in balancing the pervasive forces of cruelty and tenderness that strikes a chord. At which time you might like to read, in ‘Broken Toys', about the unexpected mending of a heart, or, in ‘Wake', about the consequences of beating your dog.

At any old time, you might just like to applaud the perspicacity of ‘Alert But Not Alarmed', in which good citizens must adapt to a new law mandating that each household have its own intercontinental ballistic missile.

Eke out these short, pitch-perfect stories over a number of sittings, if you can, or wolf them all down in one greedy session: either way, it will be hard not to be seduced by Tan's witty reconfiguration of Suburbia as a place as odd, unexpected and surreal as the hearts and minds of its inhabitants.

From the front page

Tudge and go

Is Morrison’s standing down of Alan Tudge a sign that he’s listening to women or watching the polls?

Image of The Kid Laroi

New kid on the block: The Kid Laroi

How Australia has overlooked its biggest global music star, an Indigenous hip-hop prodigy

Image of John Wilson in How To with John Wilson. Image courtesy of HBO / Binge

Candid camera: ‘How To with John Wilson’

Both delightfully droll and genuinely moving, John Wilson’s idiosyncratic documentary series is this month’s streaming standout

Image of Noel Pearson addresses the Queensland Media Club in Brisbane, 2017

The unhinged pursuit of profit is destroying us

To undo the worst of neoliberalism we need to target need, rather than race or identity

In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Isabel Letham & Duke Kahanamoku

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The wanderer

‘The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn: Colour Photographs from a Lost Age’ by David Okuefuna

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

On the edge


More in Arts & Letters

Bing Crosby and David Bowie on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, circa 1977.

Oh, carols!

The music of Christmas, from the manger to the chimney

Image of Gerald Murnane

Final sentence: Gerald Murnane’s ‘Last Letter to a Reader’

The essay anthology that will be the final book from one of Australia’s most idiosyncratic authors

Image of The Kid Laroi

New kid on the block: The Kid Laroi

How Australia has overlooked its biggest global music star, an Indigenous hip-hop prodigy

Still from ‘No Time To Die’

The Bond market: ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’

Blockbuster season begins with a middling 007 and a must-see sci-fi epic


More in Noted

Cover of ‘Crossroads’

‘Crossroads’ by Jonathan Franzen

The acclaimed US author’s latest novel is a 1971 church drama modelled on ‘Middlemarch’

Still from ‘Yellowjackets’

‘Yellowjackets’

The US drama about teen plane-crash survivors is a heady mix of folk horror and high-school betrayal

Still from ‘New Gold Mountain’

‘New Gold Mountain’

SBS’s Australian goldfields series looks beyond colonial orthodoxies to tell the neglected stories

Cover of ‘The Magician’

‘The Magician’ by Colm Tóibín

The Irish novelist’s latest ponders creativity and the unacknowledged life of Thomas Mann


Online exclusives

Image of John Wilson in How To with John Wilson. Image courtesy of HBO / Binge

Candid camera: ‘How To with John Wilson’

Both delightfully droll and genuinely moving, John Wilson’s idiosyncratic documentary series is this month’s streaming standout

Image of Clint Eastwood in Cry Macho. Image © Claire Folger / Warner Bros.

Slow motions: Clint Eastwood’s ‘Cry Macho’

Despite patient filmmaking, the 91-year-old director’s elegiac feature is unable to escape the legend of the man

Image of Anthony Bourdain in Roadrunner. © Focus Features

End of the road: The Anthony Bourdain documentary ‘Roadrunner’

Morgan Neville’s posthumous examination of the celebrity chef hews close to the familiar narrative

Image of test cricket captain Tim Paine announcing his resignation. Image via ABC News

Cricketing institutions are on a sticky wicket

Tim Paine’s sexting scandal reveals more about institutional failures than personal ones