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BOOK REVIEW: The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

| 25 February 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan
Allen & Unwin
October 2015
Hardback,  $35.00
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

Illustrated / Fairytales


The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

Artist Shaun Tan dives deep into the murky realm of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in this wonderfully dark book.

Things were different in the early 1800’s, as Tan shows by returning to the original texts of the fairy tales told to children to teach them about the scary world outside their primitive doors, and it is a very, very long way from Disney movies, indeed.

Tan has enlisted fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes to provide a short summary of each of these 95 tales, many of which involve gruesome deaths, horrible tortures and great deprivations. Equally, many also involve triumph, education, morality and love.

Next to a short passage from each tale is a small referential sculpture Tan has made, mostly using papier-mache and a fast-drying kid’s moulding clay, and they are wonderful to behold. Many of these sculptures are inspired by art from the ancient Americas – Tan visited both Canada and Mexico researching the project.

The detail and emotion Tan conveys through these sculptures is quite remarkable, and he often chooses a passage from each tale that is not the climax, nor the pivotal part of the story, but leading up to it. In doing this he opens up the imagination of the reader – what happens next? How does this fit in with the story we know now, which has been translated and rewritten often out of all context?

If Tan’s vision was to challenge the reader and leave them imagining and wanting more, then it is tantalisingly realised. Crucially, some further reading is suggested, and one suspects that many who read this book will – as we have – want to reach back to the original tales and read them in full.

Category: Book Reviews

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