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

Dutton concedes nothing

The home affairs minister will not be held to account

Image of Blanche d’Alpuget and Sophie Taylor-Price

What Bob Hawke meant by aspiration

Last week’s memorial was a fitting send-off for an inspirational leader

Image of Julian Assange

The Assange project

The WikiLeaks founder faces life in prison due to the actions of the US and the UK, and the inaction of Australia

Cover image of Underland by Robert Macfarlane

The chthonic realms explored in Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Underland’

Cave systems, mines, urban sewers, mycelial networks, moulins and more


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

Photo of Blackpink at Coachella

Seoul trained: K-pop and Blackpink

Trying to find meaning in the carefully formulated culture of K-pop

Cover image of Underland by Robert Macfarlane

The chthonic realms explored in Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Underland’

Cave systems, mines, urban sewers, mycelial networks, moulins and more

Still image from 'High Life'

A master’s misstep: Claire Denis’ ‘High Life’

The French auteur chooses a sci-fi film to start over-explaining things

Photo of Leonard French underneath his stained glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Leonard French’s Balzacian life

Reg MacDonald’s biography may return this Australian artist to the national imagination


More in Noted

Still image from ‘Assembly’ by Angelica Mesiti

‘Assembly’ by Angelica Mesiti at Venice Biennale

The democratic ideal is explored in the Australian Pavilion’s video installation

Cover image of 'Animalia' by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo

‘Animalia’ by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo

The French author delivers a pastoral that turns on human cruelty

‘The Essential Duchamp’ at the Art Gallery of NSW

A comprehensive exhibition of the 20th century’s most influential artist

‘Room for a Stranger’ by Melanie Cheng

The medico-writer delivers a novel driven less by storyline than accumulated observation


Read on

Image of Blanche d’Alpuget and Sophie Taylor-Price

What Bob Hawke meant by aspiration

Last week’s memorial was a fitting send-off for an inspirational leader

Image of Julian Assange

The Assange project

The WikiLeaks founder faces life in prison due to the actions of the US and the UK, and the inaction of Australia

Image of Israel Folau

Testing faith

On Israel Folau, free speech and the problem with religious fundamentalism

Image of Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians

Where to for Indigenous recognition from here?

All eyes are on Ken Wyatt in Scott Morrison’s otherwise underwhelming ministry


×
×