Tales from the Inner City – Shaun Tan

Tales from the Inner City is a powerful reflection on the nature of existence and the urban relationship we have with the animals within our human world.  From the dog to the crocodile; from the tiger to the frog, world renowned artist Shaun Tan explores the perennial love and destruction we feel and inflict on our fellow creatures.

Shaun Tan always creates enjoyable and thought-provoking work, and in Tales from the Inner City he explores nature, our co-existence – or not – with animals and how our way of life effects the natural environment around us.

This heavy, lavish hardback tome of 225 glossy pages, is full of atmospheric illustrations, each set over two pages which accompany the numerous short stories, and sharply contrast the differences in two opposing worlds and have an air of the dreamlike about them.

The stories themselves are a mixed bag in terms of their messages, some are obvious, but due to the trademark whimsy and surreal of Tan’s style, others fail as the point being made is sometimes too veiled.  Despite this, I find all them enjoyable and full of depth.

My stand out stories, of the twenty-five, are the passing wonder of butterflies, the random chance of frog, our evolving companionship with dogs,  the ethereal majesty of the noble horse, the visual horror of Shark.  Each is varied in tone and there is something in here for everyone to enjoy, although this isn’t really one for kids.

Reading this straight through, I never felt tempted to rush.  Its great to savour the work despite the inevitability of finishing the book in a short amount of time.  I did endure the occasional preachy writing, but that is probably an inevitable result in a book of this type.  All in all, a good read but not one of the author’s best.

“The chatter in our heads fell silent, the endless ticker tape of voice-over narrative, always prying things apart from cause and effect, sign and symbol, some kind of useful meaning or value or portent – it all just stopped, and the butterflies came to us.”

16 Replies to “Tales from the Inner City – Shaun Tan”

    1. I wonder if anyone has attempted to look at the illustrations first and tried to interpret them before reading the stories. I think that would be a compelling way to pass the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The illustration you show above, with the horses on the end of a bridge portion from which the rest has broken away, is really frightening. Horses could of course make it in the water below, swimming, if there is water below, but if there’s a cloverleaf road below….! How sad it seems to look at this one, and realize how much we have in common with those horses.


    1. The story about this one is great, its about the ghosts of horses who have worked for humans and their ghosts remain in the modern city. It really is a testament to what they have done for us.


      1. It’s funny how our perceptions of things, animals and peoples change as we mature as a species (at least, I’m hoping that’s what we’re doing). When I was young, I took horseback-riding lessons, and we always had to groom, water, and feed the horses when we brought them back to the stables. That was our version of making the horses happy and comfortable. But my brother, only five and a half years younger, only encountered horses to look at, and pet. By the time his son, my nephew, came along, horses were for him mostly encountered in petting zoos, and he has never ridden a horse. They think of it as enslaving the horses unfairly! I just remember how great it was to have an extra apple or carrot so that, after our ride together, I could give my horse-friend a special treat. Maybe over time some things are lost, too.


        1. I think there is a reaction to mistreatment of horses and that this can sometimes go too far the other way to redress the balance. Horse riding bonds both animal and human, the horse allows it with some understanding of the reward afterwards. Things will no doubt change again. They will probably get to vote next!


  2. This sounds very interesting, though I struggle to read stories about animals in case anything bad happens – I can’t bear to read anything bad about animals as it stays with me.


    1. There are a few stories that wouldn’t be to your taste, so this would be one to avoid. To balance this out, I just started The Wind in the Willows and am looking forward to reviewing it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have only recently come across Shaun Tan’s work through my daughter. I love his picture books which tell stories so well without words so I am surprised he needed to use words in this selection of stories.


    1. Both this, and Tales from Outer Suburbia are enjoyable reads. I like the books where the illustrations are open to interpretation to follow the story but the concepts here are perhaps a bit too abstract to render simply into drawings without confusing the reader/observer.

      Liked by 1 person

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