Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review : The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

My daughter randomly selected this book out of the library yesterday.  I read it to her this morning, and it struck me as rather unique for a children's book - sort of dark and pessimistic, but not scary enough to alarm a toddler (and she gets alarmed very easily).  Social critiques can be transmitted in all sorts of mediums, whether it be paintings, novels, comics and films, but I very rarely see it done with children's books.  The only other one that comes to mind is The Little Prince by Andre de Saint Exupery.  I thought that this particular book handles the balance between the seriousness of social criticism and the lightness of a children's story rather well.  The illustrations also add weight to the simple story, with an industrial world of rusty pipes, wires and cement, with nary a tree in sight, and yet there is a soft yellow light that adds a bit of hope to the tone of the picture.  The basic storyline is a young boy comes across a funny sort of half-robot, half-alien thing at the beach.  They make friends, and he takes it home with him.  Unable to keep it at home, he searches for a place to bring it, and finally discovers one: "I mean, I can't say that the thing actually belonged in the place where it ended up.  In fact, none of the things there really belonged.  They all seemed happy enough though, so maybe that didn't matter."   The world is full of dull, passionless people who follow lives of drudgery.  Lack of observation, and lack of individuality seem to be the common disease. 
What came to mind when reading this story were two things:

First, C.S. Lewis' description of the "new man" in his book, Mere Christianity.  This is the person of twentieth/twenty-first century make, who has little connection to nature, little thought besides what is dictated from society, and little moral direction.  The Lost Thing seems to depict that world, especially through the examples of the boy's parents - disinterested, tired, genderless.  The lack of human connection also seems significant.
Second, teenaged Ignacio Alvear in The Cypresses Believe in God is encouraged by his father to go walking through the city and just look around and take note of things.  In other words, observe.  What he notices is a downtown that is changing - buildings with more rigid lines and less flourish, and he is decidedly disappointed by the view, having expected something that would have been more beautiful.  When he tells his father about his findings, his father says, "What do you expect, son?  Its cubism." 

The "thing"in The Lost Thing looks like an experiment gone wrong, and yet it is more human than the human beings.  It plays, reads, expresses sadness or delight.  The place that it eventually settles in at the end of the story is bright, full of different creature/robots and seems to be in an older building(s) from a different time.  It makes an impression on the boy, but is eventually forgotten as he immerses himself in his cold industrial world.  Not a wildly happy story, but thought-provoking nonetheless.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Steph! That is a very profound book review. I quite enjoyed it. A look at society too closely these days invokes such sadness in me. I'm happy to have such positive/creative friends!