Oct/Nov 2017 Reviews & Interviews

The Park Bench

The Park Bench.
Christophe Chabouté.
Wild Dingo Press. 2017. 268 pp.
ISBN 978 0 987381 309.

Review by Ann Skea

Buy now from Amazon! If I had the artistry and the graphic drawing skills of Christophe Chabouté, I would respond to his graphic novel, The Park Bench, with a graphic review. Pictures, not words, would show me turning the pages of his book, looking interested and curious, sometimes laughing, at other times looking sad, but always keen to keep "reading."

Chabouté's park bench is an ordinary bench under a tree. Summer and winter, people ignore it as they pass by on their way to work, school, shopping, or whatever daily activity occupies them. Over the years, it is sat on, carved on, painted, slept on, used for exercising, reading, meetings, and meditation.

It is the favorite seat for an elderly couple who come there to share small cakes with each other. A dog lifts its leg at one corner so regularly, when it snows, the snow melts on its deposits there. The three old ladies who come there to gossip reminded me of three I once saw in a park in Italy, and their expressions when one of them is saluted by a passing gentleman are wonderful to behold and show exactly what each is feeling.

Lovers' trysts go ahead, or don't. Musicians play there. Stag-night drunks and aggressive young men make use of it. The tramp who sleeps there finally finds some common ground with the policeman who constantly hassles him. And an official committee plans the bench's replacement.

People from a whole, very varied community are associated with by this bench, and Chabouté's skill in expressing emotions, characters, and human idiosyncrasies shows him to be a close observer of human nature. He is a sympathetic observer, a romantic who likes happy endings, and a man who sees the humor as well as the sadness of life and is able to convey all this through his drawings, simply and effectively.

The Park Bench is a delight. Only after I had closed the book did I suddenly realize the youngsters with whom it begins might be there again, older but still in love, in the final pages. I had to turn back and look again more closely to confirm this. There may be other secrets I missed at first, but I will certainly be "reading" this book again.

Christophe Chabouté published his first work, Stories, in 1993 in France, based on the work of Arthur Rimbaud. Since then, he has received numerous prizes for his very personal illustration and storytelling style.


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