“A rest, a moment…a shelter, a refuge… a crossroads, a meeting place…just a few pieces of wood and steel.”
It’s not often you get to do a book review on a book without any words. The Park Bench by Chaboute first caught my eye because of the author. Christophe Chaboute is a graphic artist from France and, according to the cover, this is his English-language debut – a kind of strange statement as there is not a single word in this book.
As the title aptly states, this is the story about a park bench depicted in comic strip form. The story begins with the image of a hand holding a penknife which opens and the holder begins to carve in timber. Next is an image of a boy and a girl, and the carving as it progresses to result in “I U”. The penknife slips, a finger is cut and the boy and girl run away, hand dripping.
The book then follows a number of characters as they pass or interact with the park bench; sometimes stopping sometimes not. A lady with shopping, a man with a briefcase (where does he go every day?), a dog visits regularly.
An elderly man and his wife regularly visit to share a morning tea snack, and a vagrant uses the bench for resting, much to the displeasure of a security guard. Others jog by or use the bench for stretching, ladies gossip, young people talk on Mobiles, a gentleman waits with flowers, boys with their skateboards. A father with a young child who climbs all over the bench arrives; a busker visits numerous times to try out various instruments on passersby.
One day a little girl visits with her mother, who ties her balloon to the chair while she watches a snail slowly crawl over the bench. Later the workman balances on end of the bench against a tree so he can paint underneath, giving the impression the balloon is carrying the bench away…
As if from a stationary camera, we watch the bench day and night, from day to day, season to season. Some only visit once, others multiple times and with each visit, another piece of their story is revealed. Until one day the decision is made to replace the bench with a new fancy modern bench, all steel and wavy lines with supports in the middle that stops the vagrant from stretching out. We watch how the regular visitors react to the new seating arrangement, some positively some not.
The old bench is relegated to a workshop. Is this the end of the Park Bench, or is another life beginning?
I found this book a delight, easy to read (only took 20 minutes) with lovely sketches, it was easy to follow the various storylines and I felt drawn into the stories and wondering where the people went after the Park Bench. It is cleverly written, if you can say that about a comic book, with stories that intertwine, to bring the story of the Park Bench to a surprising but satisfying end.