Jun 17, 2010

Tales from Outer Suburbia

by Shaun Tan

After reading The Arrival, I went and requested all the Shaun Tan titles I could find in my library system (sadly, they do not have The Red Tree). This was the next one that came up available for me. Tales From Outer Suburbia is a group of short stories beautifully illustrated by Suan Tan's distinctive art. Some are only a long paragraph, others a few pages. They're all set in the Australian suburbs, a place both familiar and strange to the reader. Familiar, as things happen there like in any suburb- kids go exploring, fear the mean neighbor lady (who returns toys accidentally dropped in her yard broken in half), neighbors speculate at what goes on in the house that emits yelling arguments, grandparents tell stories to their children, people come outside and gather to gawk at something unusual passing through. Because there's plenty of odd things going on here, too. Strange, dreamlike events either taken for granted or explored as new phenomenon by the characters. A large sea mammal shows up inexplicably lying on someone's front lawn, miles from the ocean. A journey through a landscape of bizarre trials precludes a wedding. A man in a deep-sea diving suit walks across the neighborhood (I think that was my favorite story). Some of the stories are tender, others amusing or just a bit unsettling. I found "Stick Figures" to be a tad creepy. The artwork is amazing, and I particularly like how the endpapers are decorated with many, many tiny drawings (I could spend an hour looking at just them!), information in the back of the book is listed on bits that look like library checkout cards and such, and the table of contents is designed to look like stamps (the cost in cents being the page numbers). It's all very clever and intricate. In that, I am reminded of the series of books about Griffin and Sabine I read years ago, and in the curious quality of the stories, I am somewhat reminded of Kafka's short stories, which are also very dreamlike. All in all, this is not a book to miss!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 96 pages, 2009

More opinions at:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Bermudaonion's Weblog 
A Striped Armchair
The Zen Leaf


  1. I've heard good things about this book but keep forgetting to add it to my list so thanks for reminding me!

  2. It was very beautiful, though I wish I'd read it slower. I remember very little from it now. I'm just glad I own it!

  3. This sounds like a fun read and I love the cover.

  4. Oh yay!! So glad you enjoyed this one Jeane :D I've loved everything that Tan has done so far...it's all just incredible and I can't wait to see what he does next!

  5. I've heard nothing but raves about this author. I'm going to have to read one of his books at some point. This might be a good starting point.

  6. My library keeps saying they have this book in, and then I can't find it! I would ask the librarians, but they always give me judgey faces for coming and checking books out of the children's section.

  7. Awakenings! Is this the book from the film or Dr. Saks' earlier book?

    My favorite movie of all time. Love Oliver Saks! Saw footage of the real patients he treated with Encephalitis Lethargica - amazing. Robin Williams really nailed him in the movie too - almost identical. Enjoy!

  8. I've only read one book by this author - Eric, but I definitely will look out for the others! :)

  9. I really, really want to read this. I'm with you - after reading "The Arrival", there's just this need to read (view?) more of Tan's work.

  10. Stefanie- It definitely needs to be on the list!

    Amanda- I read it over a few days, so I would pace myself. I think I'm going to read it again before I return it to the library, though.

    Amy- Isn't the cover great? There are other variations, but I like this one best.

    Chris- I haven't even read all his books that are out, and already I'm eager for more! (I visited his website too, it's fantastic!)

    Jenners- Some other readers have said this was their least-favorite of his books, but I think it's probably a great introduction to his style, in small doses if you read the stories one at a time.

    Jenny- Luckily I get to pretend I'm looking for books for my daughter if I'm in the kid's section- all the librarians have seen me in there with her. But I feel odd searching through the graphic novels or even YA now, and that's where they shelve Shuan Tan at my library.

    Idk- the edition of Awakenings I'm reading is the original book Sacks published, before the film. There's even a section at the end where he talks about making the film with Williams and DeNiro- it's very interesting! I'll be writing about it later today.

    Melody- Is Eric about the same Eric, diminuitive exchange student, that was in a short story in this book?

    Biblibo- O yes. I have every one on hold I could find in our library system! I might even shell out money for the others they don't have.

  11. I loved this book too, and totally forgot to mention the wonderful endpapers in my review.

  12. Funny because my immediate reaction to the deep sea diver story was not very positive. And then as I let it all marinate I think that became one of my favorites as well. So glad you enjoyed this one!


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