Eric is a very unusual looking foreign student who has come to stay with the narrator’s family. The family tries very hard to make Eric feel at home and the narrator, a child it is presumed, is at first very excited about Eric’s arrival and keen to show him his local area. But Eric likes to do things that sometimes the narrator finds unsettling, and although his mother tries to reassure him by telling him that it must a “cultural thing”, doubt soon settles: is Eric really having a good time? Is he happy living with the family? As there is very little communication between Eric and his host family, it is hard to tell. One day Eric leaves suddenly, leaving the family baffled by his quick exit. But it is only then that the family finds out how much he has appreciated their hospitability.
What strikes first in this story is of course the oddness of Eric. He is probably a little more “foreign” that one who expect from a foreign exchance student! But the family does not seem particularly fazed with that, or the fact that he is sleeping in the pantry so why should the reader? In fact, bizarrely this makes this story even more universal. It certainly does not take anything away from the simplicity of the story and the message that it carries.
‘THE ARRIVAL’ was a brilliant book, the first I ever saw of Shaun Tan’s, and I have ‘Tales from Outer Suburbia’ on order – can’t wait to read this story.
I agree he is one of a kind, but if I were forced to come up with a comparison it would be, I think, Tove Jansson. Thanks for this great post!
Hi Katherine, my first experience of Shaun Tan was “The Red Tree”, and it is amazing, very different from “The Arrival”. The ending of “Eric” reminded me of the picture book “The Flower” by John Light and Lisa Evans, another beautiful book, on the power of books.
You know, I have never read Tove Johnson. I need to remedy to that!!!
or rather Tove JANSSON!
(je n’ai pas résisté à ton article, je l’ai commandé…)
“His illustrations ooze lyricism and surrealism, and yet, they are still so … human. ” < very true! Now off to check The Flower that you mention…