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'Almost all Shaun Tan's work explores notions of belonging, and related ideas about feeling at home (or not) in time and space. But these issues are most starkly explored in his first solo picture book, The Lost Thing (2000), where the narrator, Shaun, relates his discovery of a mysterious, large, red, hybrid being. This article undertakes a close reading of Tan's text, drawing on the work of theorists like Mary Douglas, Zygmunt Bauman, Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler to show how societies, through their classificatory logic, manage to deal with any ‘matter out of place’. It also explores the particular poignancy of ‘misplaced’ things in the context of Australia, not only through the Howard Government's draconian treatment of refugees, but also in terms of the country's long-standing guilt about its treatment of the Aboriginal ‘stolen generation’, and of others, like the forcibly deported British children. In contrast to the more optimistic reading usually given to Tan's work, a darker, more menacing interpretation is suggested – though a note of hope is still detected in the narrator's need to record his story. In this way, The Lost Thing is not concerned solely with social issues, but engages with a more existential sense of longing that we can all experience.' (Publication abstract)