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Tales from outer suburbia by Shaun Tan

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2008.
ISBN 978174114917 3
A story and picture book for adults and children alike, Shaun Tan draws a mirror to the face of Australia, with lonely people, houses where constant bickering between parents causes the boy to sleep on the lawn, communities where people use the missiles in their yards for practical purposes and an exchange student who lives in a house where little exchange takes place. Each story provokes thought about how we live and entreats the reader to give more serious consideration to our lives and the lives of those around us.

His incredible pictorial style, making references to art from the Renaissance world, Raymond Briggs, Geoffrey Smart, as well as nodding to Terry Gilliam, among others, gives an intellectual layer to the illustrations, urging the reader to reflect and ponder on what they are viewing. From the dog on the TV (dog on the tuckerbox?) to the car of people, looking for a place to sleep amongst a crowd of hotels, all showing a 'no vacancy' sign (Mary and Joseph perhaps?) each offers a suggestion of what is going on in outer suburbia. Tan's observation of life around him, particularly growing up in an outer suburb of Perth has given him a rich field from which to draw his stories.
To choose several stories from the wealth offered in this book is difficult, but I loved Grandpa's story which tells of the trials of a marriage, where after almost insurmountable difficulties, resulting in a no holds barred argument, the two find they must work together to find the common goal. Eric, too resonates with ideas.
For a perceptive look at the Australian suburban lifestyle, interjected with humour, pathos, allegory, and an amazing array of detailed illustrations then this book is a marvelous addition to anyone's library.
Fran Knight


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