Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tales from Outer Suburbia

Shaun Tan's latest book is exquisite and thought-provoking. It opens up other worlds, it extends our own. It places the extraordinary beside the ordinary and lets us see what happens. Suburbia, he says, is 'on the edge of consciousness (and not unlike ‘outer space’)', and these short stories show us what can happen in such a place....

The book itself, like his last masterpiece The Arrival, has been designed by him and his partner Inari Kiuru so the cover, endpapers, contents page, the stories themselves, create a satisfying work of art. People run their fingers over Shaun Tan's books and make small sounds of appreciation. Tales of Outer Suburbia is no exception.

As always a whole fantasy universe hovers off to one side of his real world, and ordinary people react to the glimpses they get - whether it is Eric the nut-sized exchange student (above) or the buffalo who points the way. They are puzzled by it, embrace it, ignore it. Buy the book for Eric alone. The final page of that particular tale I could stare at for hours.

Go here for more on Tales of Outer Suburbia and read how this author from Perth came to write these stories (make sure to press on 'more comment') and while you're there check out the rest of his books and his generous and stimulating website.

If you like you could also read my take on The Arrival written on my NZ Book Month blog, and here for an Australian blog report on a speech Tan gave which has some terrific insights into how he works.

Our Tuesday Afternoon Reading Group is the picture at the beginning of this post. It's on the final page of Tales of Outer Suburbia, and it's strange it should be there because I plan to give copies of this lovely book to my bookclub instead of the usual 250+ page novel. Oddly enough there are six of us, too. On his website. Shaun Tan gives his thoughts behind the picture:
Reading can bring us together as a shared passion, but also reveal how highly individual we are. I could think of no better way to represent this than painting an oddball reading group comprised of very different creatures, who likely have very different perspectives, tastes and opinions. Yet they are bound together by the kind of universal ideas and feelings that books can offer; here taking advantage of the last of the afternoon light in outer suburbia.

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