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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Book Commentary

eebee's picture

Apparently I'm still not learning the lesson. With a strong sense of irony, I feel like I don't have the time to write a coherent commentary about Jean-Dominique Bauby's blink-dictated account of his life with post-stroke 'Locked-in Syndrome', in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.


What's more, I can't bring myself to call this a 'book review' either, as the term for me connotates critique, and how can anyone review or judge the bottom-line nuts and bolts of ugly human life? It is what it is, whether I like it or not.

I managed to squeeze a reading of this 132 page book in between (over)working. Today I am delighted to re-experience the long-gone sensation of enjoying life for the hell of it, as I did to a fault until I hit my mid-20s. I am reminded, partly through Bauby's descriptions of Berck-sur-Mer, Nord Pas-de-Calais, in Northern France, of the less ambitious but more appreciative life in Europe. Also prodding my soul in the direction of peace are Bauby's frank and sensuous accounts of his own otherwise dismissed life events. One of them being an account of a (pre-stroke) trip to a racecourse, where the guys back at the office counted on him and another coworker to place their money on a sure bet, called Mithra Grandchamp. Well the two colleagues spent the whole time in the dining room, missing the entire race that was of course won by Mithra Grandchamp, and later had to tell their excited coworkers back in Paris that nobody had won any money. Bauby states:

"The memory of that event has only just come back to me, now doubly painful: regret for a vanished past and, above all, remorse for lost opportunities...Today it seems to me that my whole life was nothing but a string of those small near misses: a race whose result we know beforehand but in which we fail to bet on the winner."

Don't forget - the whole time he's blinking these letters in dictation. Earlier in the book he describes the minutes, hours and days of solitude in the hospital that he fills by preparing for each sentence. I'd like to take this moment to say a big THANK YOU to French-English translator, Jeremy Leggatt, for doing such an outstanding job on the English version of this book.

Bauby references the Beatles' A Day in the Life song when he recaps the day of his stroke. Interesting that the movie didn't cash in on that one, but the song's absence certainly doesn't detract from the movie's impact. Bauby turned over several book titles in his head (of course, where else!), such as The Eye, and The Pressure Cooker. Some titles for this book in my own twisted mind are Pull Yourself Together and Stop Whining, and How Dare you Complain About Anything?.

I recommend seeing the movie as well as reading the short but powerful book. Here's a brief article about leading actor Mathieu Amalric's take on the difficulty of having to sit motionless for any length of time. The Guardian (UK) claims to know The Real Story Behind the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, in an interview with our hero's daughter, Celeste Bauby, who now lives in the UK. Particularly touching are her comments about her brother, Théophile, who was then 9 years old and with their Father when he suffered his debilitating stroke:

"He remembers everything, every single moment. At least I wasn't there when it happened. He saw the beginning of the end and he was by himself. This movie helped me to understand him. I would like to say to him a thousand times sorry. I did not know how much he suffered."

Ok now I'm going to go and enjoy my Sunday, and try to really relax, European style.



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