Shaun Tan is certainly having an extraordinary year. First he won an Oscar for the animated adaptation of The Lost Thing. And now he has just been awarded this years Astrid Lindgren prize!
I'd seen the book around for a while of course (it was originally released way back in 1999!), but for some reason hadn't read it. I haven't read all of his work yet but have been following his work for some time, and love it, I think he's one of the best illustrators working in Australia, and that he is somewhat of an illustrative genius. His illustrations are so complex and multi-faceted that I have just noticed a subtitle of sorts on the front cover- A tale for those who have more important things to pay attention to.
I had known for some time that the cover reminded me of something. When I got the book out of the library, I stared at it, and suddenly realised what it was. A rather D'Oh moment, a few years too late. I was rather concerned that the cover illustration was either a remarkable homage to, or indeed a direct desecendant of Jeffrey Smart's very famous Cahill Expressway (from even further back in 1962).
Reading the book I also had echoes of other images nudging me. I'm not the greatest art historian, but it was disquieting. The tonings looked like the ads for the John Brack's exhibition in Melbourne in 2009. And then I found it went a little beyond the tonings, and I wasn't the only one to notice.
|John Brack Collins St 5pm (1955)|
|as it appears in The Lost Thing|
I was relieved when I got to the last page of the book to find an acknowledgement of sorts- APOLOGIES to Jeffrey Smart, Edward Hopper and John Brack. I was thrilled actually. I got two artistic references! But who is Edward Hopper? Again feelings of artistic knowledge inadequacy. Turns out he's an American artist. I didn't think that I knew any of his work, but this one is pretty famous I think.
|Edward Hopper Nighthawks 1942|
I'm just not sure that I can see it in The Lost Thing. I suspect perhaps it's this?
Although it's altogether possible that Shaun Tan is paying homage to a completely different Edward Hopper work, and I just don't get it. I did a Google image search of Hopper, and didn't turn up anything obvious.
So what is The Lost Thing about apart from artistic references of varying degrees of obscurity? A teenage boy, our unnamed narrator is whiling away an ordinary day, "working tirelessly" on his bottle top collection, when he notices the thing sitting on the beach. He watches it, where noone else seems to. He befriends the thing, and takes it home. I suspect it's about paying attention to the small things, being generous and helping friends. The Lost Thing also has a Western Australian feel to it according to it's author, and offers a sense of isolated reflection.
It's an enchantingly simple book, that rewards frequent rereading, like so many of Shaun Tan's books.
2016 update. Recently I went along to the fabulous ACMI exhibition about the transition from book to movie- Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing: From Book to Film. See my experience of that exhibition here.
Read my review of The Arrival.