The Viewer by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan

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The Viewer by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Another dazzling set of images from the pen of Mr Tan, with a most mysterious narrative showing the end of - well, something.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 32 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN: 9780734411891

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The musty odour of entombed air escaped from the dark space inside.

Yes, if you want to prove a title isn't your average picture book, just quote from it. After all, it would be heinous to try and cut and paste Shaun Tan's ever-so-detailed designs. You can also quote the cataloguing details at the beginning - End of the world - juvenile fiction. But it's debatable whether that's an accurate definition of the events here.

The story concerns a young lad who loves scavenging and exploring. Finding a Hellraiser-styled box of tricks contains a Viewmaster-type machine, he puts it to his eyes and sees something a lot more serious than, say, a Thunderbirds episode in thirty 3D images, which was all I ever saw in mine. Instead, Tristan sees nothing but death and destruction, and a compelling sense of - well, something.

Or nothing.

It's the fact that the story ends - or doesn't - with this something - or nothing - that makes it impossible to review. I can't pin it down in my mind to one thing or another, and hence my feelings are similarly free to waft about.

One thing I am certain of is my admiration for Tan's artwork, here presented in a revised form to the original editions of this mysterious entity. Not knowing what's changed, all I can report is there are the Hellraiser influences, of circular machinery in a gothic gloom - and no, that wasn't original in Hellraiser's time, but it's done to much more entertaining effect here. We see into and from within the machine, so there are disembodied eyes encircled by lenses, ratchets, cogs and more (Guillermo del Toro would love it). And, of course, the discs in the Viewmaster, with all their cycles of man - as elaborate as any mediaeval calendar.

There are juxtapositions of images that are pure Tan - there's one image of Tristan on the prowl for artefacts that is an embarrassment of riches, but another where the plains of the rubbish dump are just that - plain. You're reminded if anything of Dali's desert backgrounds, making his 'baked beans' more evident.

And a lot is evident here - there are details to pore over, clues and things old and new to look at from front cover to last and all in between, and you'll be forever turning the book round in a circular motion to capture everything. Which is what the machine might - or might not - have done, and also what the story will undoubtedly do - capture you, and require constant turning.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

In design style, if not technique, the nearest I know of to Tan is Dave McKean - which makes Gary Crew a Neil Gaimanesque companion. You'll see what I mean in Crazy Hair by them both.

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