the diving bell and the butterfly

Title :: The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly
Author :: Jean-Dominique Bauby
Completed :: Mar 02 2008
Rating :: 4/5

I am alive, I can think, and no one has the right to deny me these two realities.

Ignoring the fact that this book was written by a man blinking his left eye as letters of the alphabet were read aloud this book is amazing. It is the story of Bauby's 'cardiovascular accident' which obviously is life changing when it leaves him in a coma and upon waking leaves him locked inside of his body only able to move his left eyelid. But the story itself is not depressing, sure it's sad and maybe a bit emotional but it is inspiring. Bauby comes to realize that though he may be living life as if "a giant invisible diving-bell holds [his] whole body prisoner" his "mind takes flight like a butterfly".

There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas's court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.

Bauby is not shy in sharing his frustrations of not being able to communicate. Certain staff members at the hospital get on his nerves when they come into his room and turn off the TV while he's watching a football match - only he can't shout at them to turn the TV back on. Or one of the staff forgets to return to his room to turn the TV off and it's left on all night keeping him awake. When his speech therapist, Sandrine, develops a communication code Bauby is given the opportunity to speak out but unfortunately only to those who are patient and take the the time to learn the special alphabet. Instead of using A-B-C Sandrine created an alphabet according to the frequency of use of a particular letter in the French language - E-S-A-R-I-N-T.

A couple of weeks ago I went to see the The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly in the theatre and it was absolutely gorgeous. The director really caught the atmosphere and by using mostly the point of view of Bauby the audience really gets a feeling for how his life is, how he sees the world. I also thought the colors were perfect, can't really explain it but nothing was harsh it was mostly soft blues, teals and whites - it's very artistic. I heard quite a few sniffles throughout the movie. I didn't feel as emotional as others perhaps because I was going into the movie having already read the book so maybe I was a bit more prepared and knew what to expect.

I was however rather moved at one point in the film when Bauby's father calls him. His father is obviously upset that he can't visit his son, as he's 93 years old and can't make it down the stairs to leave his apartment. He tells his son that like him he's also trapped. The entire phone call is frustrating because his father doesn't have a very good short term memory and keeps forgetting what he wants to tell his son. Something that is not helped when he has to wait patiently for the nurse to read out the alphabet and wait for Bauby to blink at the letter he wants in order to answer his father. Both father and son end the call in tears. The scene is really touching and really got to me.

In the copy of the book that I have, Bauby's obituary is included and I was especially moved by this passage :

He is also in search of past time, of memory itself, of the books he has read, the poems he learned by heart; even more sad, he thinks of all the books he wanted to read and hadn't done so.

Bauby's book was first published on March 7 1997 and he died two days later of heart failure at the age of 44. But he lived long enough to witness the success of his book with 25,000 copies being sold on it's first day of publication in France. His story is truly inspiring.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . make you smile . +44 . when your heart stops beating .

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posted by Ashleigh @ 14:01,


At 20 March 2008 at 14:34, Blogger Danielle said...

I'm pretty sappy--just reading this post almost brings tears to my eyes, which is why I've avoided reading this book. I may have to give it a try sometime, however.

At 31 March 2008 at 09:19, Blogger StuckInABook said...

I thought this book was great - elegiac, but witty, and certainly nothing like the miserylit it could have been. The film has gone out of the major cinemas around here, but I'm hoping to catch it when it goes to one of the smaller, artier ones.


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    ashleigh (ash'lė) n.
    1: egyptologist; currently living in the uk attempting to obtain a phd in egyptology, hoping in the end there will be a job.
    2: literary; reading to escape reality, to improve conversation, for inspiration.
    3: crafter; crocheting and needlework, creating heirlooms, keeping the world warm.
    4: dreamer; head in the clouds, full of fantasies, wishing to be someone else, somewhere else.
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