Fascinating artwork and sad story: a jewel!

Thursday, December 27. 2007

The Rabbits
Shaun Tan, John Marsden
Simply Read Books, 2003
32 p.

Here it comes, dear readers: my first post-Christmas book review! Today I'd like to tell you about a fabulous picture book, The Rabbits, by Shaun Tan (pictures) and John Marsden (text), which my favourite geek presented me with. Don't get mislead by the label „picture book“, dear readers, for this isn't really children's literature – though the book has been categorized as such; more about it on Shaun Tan's website. The Rabbits deals indeed with a political issue in a sublime and poetic yet hard way and is therefore a most suitable reading for adults.

This book is an allegory of the colonisation of Australia with all the changes and the devastation it involved, the rabbits playing here their own part as well as the white men's. The story is recounted from the point of view of the colonised people, some marsupial species (probably numbats), in a few pages, from the first contact to the final question „Who will save us from the rabbits?“. Both the surrealistic pictures and the minimalistic text explore and show the depth of these creatures' sorrow and how their land methodically gets alienated by the rabbits. This tale is immensely sad but the way it is told is incredibly beautiful.

Shaun Tan's art is amazing, a work of pure sophistication yet never overloaded. To me, it seems like a mixture of Dalí's extravagant and Magritte's more serene surrealism – and de Chirico's pre-surrealism – with some elements rather remembering of Odilon Redon's mysterious symbolism, Edvard Munch's wild expressionism and Tim Burton's dark grotesque and a touch of Asian and Oceanian traditional art. It's a strange yet bewitching and unique art, exquisitely painted and coloured and masterly composed, and I love it!

John Marsden reduced his text to the core, using only short and simple sentences, which creates a interesting contrast with the very detailed pictures. In this book there is however no fight between picture and word; on the contrary, they are closely intertwined with each other. So much indeed that the handwritten and skillfully placed words are parts of the pictures.

I would recommend The Rabbits to anybody, but especially to art lovers and those looking for an original approach of colonisation. Shaun Tan has also made other books, which all seemed to be as beautiful as this one and which I'm eager to discover :-D. For more information on Shaun Tan and his work, check out his wonderfully illustrated website.

The Rabbits is published by Simply Read Books.

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