1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Diving Bell & The Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Gannon, Apr 24, 2008.

    At just over one hundred pages long this book may not seem remarkable on the surface but when one considers that its author can only communicate through the blinking of one eye, and dictated his novel through this medium, the book's existence is remarkable enough. That it is equal parts fascinating, witty and poignant is testament to the author.

    Bauby suffered a massive stroke causing him to suffer from Locked-In Syndrome, almost completely paralysed save for his left eye. He was the editor in chief of Elle magazine in France and a popular 44 year old, in an instant he would be a 'vegetable' as some called him for the rest of his life. Cognitively sound, Bauby's attempts at keeping sane and flights of mental fancy are here dictated as his memoirs. Snippets of his former and current life flutter in front of him and the reader like the titular butterfly. He compares his locked-in existence to being in a diving bell, isolated and away from the world.

    His father lives in mirrored isolation, locked in his apartment due to his age and fragility. This poignant anecdote is one of many. He sentimentalises, but not too much, he inspires more. This book has been said to show what it is to be human.

    What it is to be human would appear to be a natural sense of ambivalence:

    ''One day . . . I can find it amusing, in my 45th year, to be cleaned up and turned over, to have my bottom wiped and swaddled like a newborn's. I even derive a guilty pleasure from this total lapse into infancy. But the next day, the same procedure seems to me unbearably sad, and a tear rolls down through the lather a nurse's aide spreads over my cheeks.''

    The titular diving bell is Bauby's prison of a body, the butterfly his imagination: ''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 sit down to a meal at any hour, with no fuss or ceremony. If it's a restaurant, no need to call ahead. . . . The boeuf bourguignon is tender, the boeuf en gelee translucent, the apricot pie possesses just the requisite tartness.''

    This book is a humbling, sometimes uncomfortable experience and testament to what it truly is to be human.
     
  2. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    I read it as part of my 'stroke research' for my novel and loved it, especially his ability to hang onto his sense of humour trapped in such a dire situation. I'd recommend it to everyone, particularly because it rapidly put things into perspective. We take so much for granted and moan and gripe about the little things when, close by, there's often someone far worse off coping so much better than ourselves. I haven't watched the movie though, wary of my initial impression being adversly affected.
     
  3. Brenda Keesal
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    Brenda Keesal Member

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    You guys make me want to read the book. I saw the film and just loved it. It is rare that a filmmaker can take a literary work of art and turn it into the art of cinema, but Julian Schnabel can and did. Check it out!
     

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