Bubbles & Gondola is unmistakably about writer’s block. Charlie the mouse lives alone. He works alone. He is alone all the time. And, he’s an artist! Oh boy! What could possibly cause him any trouble in his lovely, little life? Well, he can’t seem to get anything done. He’s stuck.
Luckily, a little bluebird who calls himself Mr. Solitude comes along to set Charlie straight — he heckles Charlie to get out there and get his brain moving. In response to Mr. Solitude’s urging, Charlie ambles through cloudscapes and dreamscapes, culminating in a crazy drunken party where hippos dress like telephones, birds dress like Don Quixote, and all other manner of weirdness ensues. Drunk and disorientated, he ends the night serenading empty streets from a lamppost. Something glorious and unexpected has happened to him: his silence and solitude have finally been broken, and he’s able to take up his craft again with confidence, free from the shackles of his own mind.
This plot seems over-simplified, but the language is fairly philosophical. For instance, the “gondola” in the title is the writer’s creativity attached to the stationary wheel of his fruitlessly cycling mind. The dilemma seems overly fraught and our adorable little hero, Charlie, has little character of his own to speak of, beyond his function as an allegory for the struggling artist. I’d like to think that some of the meaning is lost in a mediocre translation from the French, but it’s just too pervasively high-minded for that to be the case. In being so philosophically fraught, the story lacks a beating heart. Although the dilemma of writer’s block is a real and recognizable one, the highly philosophical style makes it hard for the reader to connect to it. Much like Charlie the mouse is hiding in his little garret, Dillies seems to be hiding from something through the mask of this “cute intellectually over-developed animal” story, which is unfortunate, because Charlie and his compatriots are an awfully cute and fun bunch. Mice, birds, bears, giraffes, pigs, and creatures of questionable genesis commune gleefully in settings familiar and strange. The artwork is enthusiastic, flowing, friendly, eerie in the right places, decorative, and suitably symbolic in others. The color palette is the best thing about the book: mostly muted oranges and tans infused with bits of rich and well-placed blues and greens. The book is a lot of fun to look at, even if it’s not saying much.
In the end, Bubbles & Gondola promises much and delivers little. The philosophical, self-reflective nature of the story makes it a better read for an adult audience, though the pictures could be happily pondered by anyone without delving into all the serious stuff. It’s sweet and definitely beautiful, but the story is flat, fine, and forgettable.
Bubbles & Gondola
by Renaud Dillies
NBM Publishing, 2011