Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Flashback: The Arrival

Partly to shift my older writing from my pictoral blog to this one, but also in honour of his recent oscar triumph, I present to you my first ever written review, a hugely fawing look (yes, I know what I said just a few short days ago, but bollocks to that, this is a great book) at Shaun Tan's The Arrival.

Whether this marks a progression into a greater degree of wordiness on this blogs part I'm yet to know, but if you're sitting comfortably I'd like to talk for a bit today rather than offer a picture.

Having been pointed in it's direction a few weeks ago and never following it up, yesterday I finally read Shaun Tan's "The Arrival". Published nearly two years ago now "The Arrival" is an entirely (I'm not counting the title) text free novel, which follows a single nameless character during his emigration and settlement in an unfamiliar country. Unfamiliar not only to the character, but also to the reader, as the the nation, it's flora, fauna, language and customs are all creations of Tan. This has the effect of meaning the narrative does not simply retell the story of an immigrants arrival, but recreates the experience of it. Our protagonist has to struggle to navigate a world where even basic tasks, from food shopping to unskilled labour, although recognisable, function in wildly different ways than thous we know. His only guides through this world are a series of fellow settlers, people who have already undergone the transition into being citizens of this peculiar nation, who retell, or at least, remember, their own journeys, escaping from invasions, wars, and hardships. Quite what the character we follow is escaping from is left deliberately obscure, expressed only as a widely interpretable metaphor, which, like the books word free pages, and black and white images, is all the more effective for it's vagueness.
At just shy of 120 pages of images, and no text in sight, it might seem odd to use the term "novel" to describe Tan's book, but the pictures used to tell this story are so finely detailed, not in a technical sense (although the drawing are beautifully rendered) but in a narrative one, each single visual page would take several in text to adequately describe it.

"The Arrival" is one of thous books which is just on the cusp of being something I'm almost a little angry at for not being my own work. But I'll forgive it this small failing, as even in the 24 hours since I was able to read it, it's made me think very much about both how I do, and how I would like to, present and use my own work.
Whether you work with images or words yourself, if your interests are artistic or political, or if you just really like a good book, I would gladly and stongly suggest you give Shaun Tan's "The Arrival" a read.

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