Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Rating: 4.5 stars

BROWSE INSIDE to read the beginning of the book!!

This book is the fascinating memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a massive stroke in 1995. Once he regained consciousness after a three week coma, Bauby was left with an active mind trapped in a functionless body, known as Locked-in Syndrome. The only muscle that retained any movement was his left eyelid and so he spent most of 1996 dictating this book letter by letter by blinking as someone read out the alphabet to him. In 1997, three days after the book was published in France, Jean-Dominique Bauby died.

Bauby was a well-known journalist and author and editor of the French version of ELLE magazine. Though he must have had many interesting stories to recount about his days as an editor and journalist, he decided that the book's content would focus on the smaller joys of life. It's a much quieter and more subtle book than you'd expect from such a high-profile man but I think that is really where the beauty of this book resides. Day to day events and memories of spending time with his children fill the pages of this book. Focusing on the little tasks of everyday life after his stroke, it makes you realize just how much we take for granted by simply being able to move our muscles.

For this man to have lost his basic functioning and still maintain hope and the strength to transcribe this book LETTER BY LETTER in itself is quite remarkable. It was clearly important to him to pass on his insights to the world and make the most of his last days. With the insight he gained from his experience, this book makes for a powerful read that will stay with you for a long time.

This memoir was made into a film in 2007, with the same title as the book. As you can see, this cover is from the movie tie-in version (which I usually find pretty corny), but I really like this particular one. I haven't seen the movie yet but it has won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes, plus it received four Oscar nominations.


The movie really does looks wonderful - here is the trailer:




As you may expect, given the unique form that this book was written, it is quite short. However I would certainly not equate brevity with a lack of substance, because this book is both inspirational and meaningful, in short - a very worthwhile read.


BIG THANKS to Deanna and HarperCollins Canada for my review copy

3 comments:

bermudaonion said...

What a remarkable story. I bet it was very emotional to read.

ANovelMenagerie said...

A friend lent me this book and I reviewed it. I'm interested in seeing the movie to see how it compares to the book.

C. B. James said...

Be sure to see the movie. It's very faithful to the book, in its own way, and excellent in its own right. I loved both.