November 18, 2009

Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
by Jean-Dominique Bauby

What an incredible accomplishment! For a man in this state to have written such an eloquent book is astonishing.

At the age of 42, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief for the French Elle magazine, suffered a stroke leaving him in the almost completely paralyzed state known as locked-in syndrome. With the use of only his left eye, Jean-Do was able to blink his way through the French language frequency-ordered alphabet, an alphabet set in the order of letters most commonly used to the least, in order to write his memoir. It took him 10 months working 4 hours a day with an assistant to write this 131 page book.

Within its pages there is some truly lovely prose. There is poetry in his descriptions when he writes about his struggles after the stroke and some of his life before. It's not always cohesive but that is more than forgivable. And Bauby has a sense of humor too. I felt that it was okay to laugh at this passage because he was laughing along with me:

"Having turned down the hideous jogging suit provided by the hospital, I am now attired as I was in my student days. Like the bath, my old clothes could easily bring back poignant, painful memories. But I see in the clothing a symbol of continuing life. And proof that I still want to be myself. If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere."

This book is not exactly life altering but the story behind it is inspirational.

But I have to back up a little bit here. Before I read the book, I watched the movie; and before the movie was glowing review of the book that I read at Bending Bookshelf. When the movie arrived in my mailbox I was surprised to find that it was a French film but some of my favorite movies have been foreign films so I hunkered down to read my way through the movie.

It started off really disorienting. The beginning depicts Jean-Do waking in the hospital and realizing what condition he is in. It is viewed from his perspective so it is foggy with flashing scenes that don't make much sense. There is a really gross scene of one of his eyes being sewn shut but it gets better as it goes. Throughout the movie it moves back and forth between being inside his head and what happened the little while leading up to the stroke.

The movie was moving and very effective in showing what life must have been like for Bauby. However, upon further investigation it seems that the movie took some liberties. The mother of Bauby's children (I'm not sure if she is in fact an ex-wife) is made to be the "butterfly" that keeps his spirits up with her loving devotion but according to his friends she had little to do with him during his last year of life. This was disappointing but it doesn't change my adulation for the film. It was beautifully done.

I would recommend the book and the movie to anyone. They compliment each other and should be viewed and read as companions. This is a case where watching the movie first enhanced my experience with the book.

This review of both a movie and the book it was based on is another challenge completed for the Take a Chance Challenge, the Movie/Book Comparison. I am so grateful to have been exposed to such a life affirming duo. Thank you Jenners for the challenge and Charley for the recommendation.


C.B. James said...

I'm a big fan of both the book and the movie. I'll have to check out the Take a Chance Challenge.

Charley said...

Watching the film first enhanced the reading of the book for me as well. While the details of the story have slipped away with time, how this book came to be is unforgettable. Glad you enjoyed!

Jeane said...

I've been curious about this one for some time. I'll have to remember now, when I do read it, to have the movie on hand too (I like foreign films). Hearing about how tedious it was for him to write it amazes me.

bermudaonion said...

I've heard great things about the movie version of this book, so I'd like to see it and read the book. Great review.

Anna said...

Thanks for the comment! (the secret to the photo's is Microsoft Pic Manager...just increase the contrast level on any old boring photo and it will instantly look amazing!) I've seen the DVandB but didn't know it was a book...will have to put it on my list!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This sounds amazing!

Zibilee said...

I've heard great things about the book, but hardly anything about the movie. Now that I know that it's best to experience them both together, I will be trying to add both to my list. I think his story is fascinating and very moving and I'm really glad that you enjoyed it so much. I will have to let you know what I think of it when I have finished. I also loved the quote you provided!