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.

Cover: August 2008

August 2008

From the front page

An unavoidable recession

The pandemic got us in, the treasurer must get us out

Child's illustration

The screens that ate school

What do we really know about the growing presence of Google, Apple, Microsoft and more in the education system?

Image of protest against police violence in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 26, 2020

Black Lives Matter

Australia should draw lessons from the riots in the US

Image of Australians queuing at Centrelink in Brisbane.

Moral bankruptcy

Robodebt stemmed from the false ideological division between the deserving and undeserving poor, but the government still clings to moralistic language


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


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‘The End of October’ by Lawrence Wright

A ‘New Yorker’ journalist’s eerily prescient novel about public-health officials fighting a runaway pandemic

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‘Fathoms: The World in the Whale’ by Rebecca Giggs

The Australian writer’s lyrical consideration of our relationship with whales is a new and ambitious kind of nature writing

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‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’ by Cho Nam-Joo (trans. Jamie Chang)

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Read on

Image of Australians queuing at Centrelink in Brisbane.

Moral bankruptcy

Robodebt stemmed from the false ideological division between the deserving and undeserving poor, but the government still clings to moralistic language

Image of Gough Whitlam in October 1975

It’s about time

The High Court’s landmark ruling on the ‘Palace Papers’ is a win for Australian social democracy

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Something mythic

For Robyn Davidson, her acclaimed memoir ‘Tracks’ was an act of freedom whose reception hemmed her in

COVID-19 versus human rights

The virus is the latest excuse for governments to slash and burn the individual rights of prisoners


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