I’m not quite sure how to review The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve read, and I’m not sure I know how to review visual art in the first place. But I can certainly recommend it.
This unique book contains photographs of small sculptures by Tan, each illustrating one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Each sculpture encapsulates its respective tale in one haunting image, often enhanced by the lighting and arrangement of the photo, and accompanied by a short passage from the tale.
You will be familiar with some of the tales. Others, you might not be. Tan includes a short summary of each tale in the back of the book, but you may also feel inspired to go back to the Grimms and read the full story — happily, the brothers’ work is easily available.
The Singing Bones is introduced by a foreword from Neil Gaiman and a short history of the Grimms by Jack Zipes, both of which are well worth reading too.
How to describe the sculptures? Gaiman calls them “oneiric,” and I have to agree. They feel like something you dreamed, or maybe something you saw when you were a little kid and you were never sure if you dreamed it or not, and you’d forgotten all about it until you opened the book. They’re sometimes sad, sometimes unsettling, sometimes exuberant. The cover image is representative.
If you’re a fairy-tale nerd, you definitely need The Singing Bones on your shelf or coffee table.