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This is a collection of three of Tan's previously published picture books: The Red Tree, The Lost Thing, and Rabbits (words by John Marsden).

I had already read The Red Tree* and it only gets better with time. It's the best visual evocation of the experience of clinical depression I have ever met, which oddly enough makes it an exhilarating work-- the girl in it wanders through terrifying and confusing spaces, never sure what to do with herself or what comes next or why to go on, and then there is the tree like fire, and you realize there have been leaves throughout carrying that same crimson lushness, only she didn't see them, and maybe she won't see them tomorrow, but--

My favorite bit is the part where she's on a stage trying to figure out what she's expected to do in the performance, and there are signs all over in Finnish and a devil creeping out of a trapdoor and a machine doing push-ups and some people are juggling and she's wearing a sock puppet designed to look like herself, and there is absolutely no way to tell what she ought to do about any of it and there never will be, and I swear this has happened to me on multiple occasions, down to the Finnish, it was so instantly familiar.

The other two are also very good, although The Lost Thing feels as though it is fumbling a little in trying to find itself, but maybe that's the point: the protagonist in this one finds in a quietly dystopian city a friendly lost thing, which has tentacles and gears and strategically placed bells and looks rather like a teapot, and he has to figure out where to go from there. It's got some lovely collage going, the images over real and fake newspaper clippings, but it didn't pull me in very firmly.

And Rabbits is about colonialism and Australia, where the colonizers are literally drawn as rabbits, which is one of the best visual metaphors I can think of for that, perfect, if you know the history. It is frightening and beautiful and frightening because it's beautiful, because the first spread is wild ocean with one golden ship far out like sunlight itself, lovely, if you don't know, but you know. No easy answers, either, of course there wouldn't be. Imported sheep cropping the soil to bone with human mouths, and even that image is gorgeous.

I could stare at any given page of Shaun Tan for hours, honestly. This is a very good collection.

* Okay so I cannot help the thing where Caitlin Kiernan has also written a book called The Red Tree and I am incapable of thinking of them separately and so on finishing the Tan some part of my head always smiles brightly and says to itself 'and then it ate her!' but I assure you this was not intentional on anyone's part and does not invalidate the point of either book in any way and maybe one of these years I will be able to stop doing it, but I certainly haven't yet, because come on. Ignore me. It is wrong of me.


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