Dog (Shaun Tan, A&U)
This is Shaun Tan doing what he does best. Carrying an elegant tension between joy and sadness, Dog left me in a puddle of emotion. The prose poetry traces the connection between a human and a dog—between an everyhuman and an everydog—walking side by side through a universe of universes, ethereal yet grounded in the visual theme and variation of composition on each page. The tiny figures are nearly always physically separated—by a dominating chasm that is sometimes river, sometimes road, sometimes trench, bridge or field—but tied across time and space with the tender idea of ‘walking side by side as if it had always been this way’. Death is no full stop in this story, as the longing relationship between the two creatures carries on despite the environments and bodies they inhabit. As always in Tan’s books, the surface story shelters a depth of abstract mystery and unreality, any potential sentimentality sidestepped by the auteur-voice. This book has an easier point of entry than some of his others, with clean imagery and an appeal to the collective consciousness of species who seek connection. Characteristically of Tan, Dog is very adult—I certainly wouldn’t be able to read it aloud to a child without bawling. As such, it sits in a difficult liminal publishing/marketing domain: not quite picture book, not quite graphic novel, not quite ‘gift’ book, not quite ‘literature’. But thank goodness Tan already has a following and a reputation that will sell the book, because it’s splendid and deserves an audience.
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg is a freelance editor, writer and reviewer, and has worked as a bookseller at The Hobart Bookshop for over 10 years.