Cicada (Shaun Tan, Lothian)
Shaun Tan has done it again. Cicada is excellent. Although more distinctly a narrative picture book than some of his others, Cicada’s darkness breeds a rich subtext that will serve well in classrooms and resonate with older children and adults. The journey of the eponymous cicada—an unappreciated, abused office worker—reimagines the peculiar life cycle of these extraordinary creatures in a stark, bleak, near-monochromatic human office environment, where all but the besuited insect are faceless, and the maze of cubicles look like Escher’s might have if he’d had the joy stamped out of him. The concrete, minimalist illustrations Tan uses here contrast with his earlier work, and the seemingly simple story is multilayered, lending itself to various readings. Told in Cicada’s broken English, the short narrative also conjures metaphors with the refugee experience. The mood of the story shifts at the end though it retains some ambiguity (the cathartic change in colour palette recalls the uplifting end of The Red Tree). Cicada’s strangely addictive little refrain of ‘Tok Tok Tok!’, which echoes the insect’s call as well as a mindless, keyboard-tapping corporate world, will stay with you, as will this beautiful book.
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg, an editor and writer, is a bookseller at The Hobart Bookshop