In this new collection of 25 short stories, Shaun Tan explores the relationships between animals and humans in the city. It’s deep, dark stuff filled with revelatory truths. In a story about a pig, we are confronted with the reality of our diet. In a story about a sheep we encounter the hopelessness of individual gestures in the face of industrial stasis. We consider immigration through a story about lungfish. In stories of parrots and butterflies, we realise the sheer inadequacy of language to encapsulate the non-human world. There are echoes of Ted Hughes’ Iron Woman throughout, particularly in a story about frogs and capitalism. Like the Iron Woman, Tan is unwavering and angry and brimming with love. Each story leaves you reeling, with so much to reflect upon and discuss. It is impossible to come away unchanged.
The paintings that illustrate each tale are luminously beautiful, but also deep and considered. Animals are presented with dignity and selfhood. The variance in their stance and gaze is striking. A sheep glares out accusingly, insisting we acknowledge its life-force. A pig turns its back in horror at our actions. An owl confronts us, unknowable and unflinching. A cat looks to the horizon, carrying refugee humans through a storm to safety. The wildness of the fox is indescribable. The painting I return to most, however, is the snails and their beautiful dance. In this spread Tan captures the magnificence and transcendence of love.
Tan’s latest collection of allegories feel almost biblical in their potency and reach. A truly great work of art. Suitable for everybody aged 12 and up.