So yes, I am a little behind… already. Yes, I really should be almost finished week four’s book. And so, yes, I thought I’d sneak in a ‘picture book’ for week three to try and catch up. And yeah, it hasn’t really worked… but let me tell you about this picture book.
Tales from Outer Suburbia is the newbie from Shaun Tan. Mostly, I think of Shaun Tan as an artist/illustrator who writes a little and perhaps this book can be put in that category. For me, it was definitely the artwork I was interested in and the overwhelming joy I received from Tan’s last book, The Arrival, that drew me to this book. (By the way I also have a lovely little doodle from the author on the title page of this one… maybe I like autographs more than I admitted to in week one)
The Arrival is possibly my favourite book of the last couple of years, which might sound odd. There’s no words, it’s shortish and what about all those other books I read like Fugitive Pieces, The Story of Forgetting, Poisonwood Bible, Great Expectations, Tender Morsels and The Road? I said it was ONE of my favourites. If you haven’t read The Arrival, you must. I’m not going to do too much book-pushing on this blog but this is an exception. YOU MUST READ IT. It is a beautiful, wondrous, illustrative story, that speaks to each of us at a micro and global level of the movement of peoples across the world and the negative but also beautifully positive things that can happen when families make a new country their home. It appeals to my innocent, idealistic heart, the illustrations are glorious and it is just the most exquisite thing. There. Said it.
But what of Tales from Outer Suburbia? Wonderful illustrations with Tan’s blend of realism and fantasy. Suburban streetscapes sit naturally with imagined creatures and giant buffaloes that give cryptic directions, and there are pages filled with tiny drawings you could spend hours examining, and getting a sense of not only Tan’s talent and imagination but his sense of humour and sense of humanity. What are the words like? Some stories read a bit like an illustrator writing but often when this is the case the concept or the illustrations make up for any awkwardness. And I also think that those stories which didn’t appeal to me so much would be loved by the younger audience who is this book’s target market. Some pieces, like Distant Rain, which describes what happens to those scraps of discarded poetry people write and then throw away, are eloquent and touching and just plain gorgeous. Short pieces – almost captions to the artwork – like The Amnesia Machine and Night of the Turtle Rescue are exquisite in their combination of words and pictures. There are anti-war messages, fantastical ideas, messages of love and family, stories both haunting and funny. Is it The Arrival? It’s such a different beast to compare. Is it worth reading? Yes.