on 7 November 2002
I know you're not supposed to focus on the author and their situation rather than the actual book, but in this case it's hard not to. I have read this book several times and each time it has the effect of making me profoundly glad to be alive. Bauby is keenly aware of his exclusion from the things in life which we take for granted every day - a hot bath with a cup of tea and a good book, for example - and makes the reader realise exactly how much we do take for granted, things that we should be so, so grateful for if ever we were, like him, unable to ever experience them again. As well, it is an excellent book in itself: movng and beautifully written, and showing clearly the humour and the courage of the writer in the hardest and most horrible of situations. It is also a testament to the strength of the mind and consciousness: trapped within his head, Bauby revisits every aspect of his past and conjures up tastes, sounds, smells and sensations. The book is enjoyable and easy to read; I would definitely recommend it to anyone.
on 6 January 2008
I find it hard to write about this novel, for what can I say that can justify the feelings & emotions this book invokes in the reader. A novel written by a man whose only form of communication is to blink his left eye when a visitor recites the correct letter, where Bauby must have spent hours agonising over every word, sentence and paragraph whilst many writers will write chapters in half the time, similarly, as a reader I find that I also spend more time pondering over each sentence, giving myself time to digest what has just been said - this is truly a novel where every word counts, because the writer didn`t have the leisure of wasting pages with words that have no worth. This may be a short novel, but it takes time to read, not only because you'll want to re-read whole paragraphs at a time, but because, on countless occasions, you'll read something that will make you pause for a while, put the book down, and simply sit and think. Bauby's own contemplation rubs off on the reader, where he cannot fill in all the details, the reader appeals to their imagination and allows their mind to fill in the blanks of horror and fear.
Bauby's style deserves a mention. Whether through skill, detachment, selflessness, or purely based on the difficulty of communication, Bauby adopts a style that is not only honest, but subtle, to the point, without pity, and riddled with dark humour. If this was an overly dramatic novel full of misery and self pity then I would not be wasting my time writing a review. One thing that really struck me while reading this book was Bauby's sense of acceptance of it all. He describes his life, his routine, the inconsiderate behaviour of members of the hospital staff, his dreams, his family, his friends with such an acceptance and down to earth honesty that you can't help but to respect his character, which make his moments of weakness and grief all the more powerful and touching - because this is a man who does not feel sorry for himself even though he has more right to than most.
The novel itself is an easy (language wise, not content), short read that is highly reminiscent of children's books with it's large type and short chapters. Every sentence is to the point in such a way that you cannot simply skim paragraphs but have to devour them carefully, sentence by sentence. Bauby is a clever, witty man and much of his humour can easily be unnoticed by skim reading. Many of the sadder moments are laced with jokes, and though at first it may seem like Bauby is protecting the reader by making his situation seem not so bad, after a while you begin to suspect that it's not for anyone else's benefit but his own, because without this humour, he'd have to accept just how dire his situation is. It's a way for him to cope, and prevents the novel from becoming an incredibly dark read. One of these moments is when he talks about how, before the stroke he wanted to write a novel based on `The Count Monte-Cristo' and thought it was a funny coincidence how he has turned out like the main character of the novel (paralysed). Now, he is planning to write a vast saga where the main character is a runner, with the chapter ending with, `You never know. It might work'. Though it may seem like a dismissive, half hearted comment, when you look back and see how hard he must have laboured to write this chapter to get to this point, you realise that, through the joke, he's actually being serious.
There's no doubt this is a touching novel. The last lines speak for themselves. As I mentioned at the start, this is a hard novel to talk about content wise, and in a way I feel that to try and analyse what Bauby has said is to dilute it, to take away from it's essence. Really, it's a novel that speaks for itself if you let it.
A Critic once said, `Read this book and fall back in love with life'. If I were you, I' take his advice.
on 31 May 2003
If, in order to write a book, you must first arrange each sentence systematically in your head, then dictate each letter of each word in those sentences by way of blinking your left eye as someone reads the alphabet to you, you are bound to keep your prose spare. And that is exactly what Bauby did, his formidably touching and beautiful novel uses only the most essential lyrical and simple prose, and is a short but wholly engaging read. This makes a perfect present as I have never met anyone young or old, male or female, who has not enjoyed this. A must for everyone's bookcase.
on 3 July 1999
Words have trouble expressing how deeply moving Bauby's work is, especially when one knows he finally succumbed to the locked-in syndrome shortly after completing the book. His disability held him captive yet somehow gave his mind the freedom to wander through uncharted depths of human thinking, guiding the reader through his sorrows, joys, appreciations of the small pleasures of life, and his frustration both with the way people perceived him and his inability to walk amongst them. It is a little book of incredible power which I recommend to anyone becoming disillusioned with their lives.
on 21 November 2006
The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly is a truly extraordinary book and gives us a unique insight into a thankfully rare condition known as locked in syndrome. In 1995 Jean Dominique Bauby, Editor in Chief of Elle Magazine, suffered a massive stroke which rendered him completely paralysed and speechless. Communicating by blinking his left eyelid he painstakingly dictated this book and died two days after its publication. The ability of Bauby to keep his composure in the face of such a terrifying experience seems to be attributable to a futile belief in his ultimate recovery and a side effect of this syndrome where sufferers do not appear to experience terror, rather tranquillity tapered by sadness. Few sufferers have expressed a wish to die thus demonstrating the strength of the human spirit and the triumph of hope over adversity. There are moments of deep sadness and one of the most poignant passages describes father's day on the beach when Bauby longs to reach out and hug his young son. However, at times the book is a celebration of his former charmed life and the richness of his narrative is remarkable as he recalls his past in vivid detail. Very thought provoking and well worth the read
on 7 January 2000
TDBATB is quite possibly one of the most fantastic pieces of literature I have ever had the fortune to read. His sensitive style, that comes out in both his native French and English, is so hearwarmingly accessable (for the want of a less patrionising phrase) that one cannot fail to be moved by it. Deeply moving, his motifs of escape, the sea and the lighthouse as a pillar of strength coupled with his razor-sharp wit that he feels he has lost to the outside world, portray his changing relationships with those around him in a way that the reader is instantly moved....but, as he wishes, shows no pity. As the blurb said on the back of one of my copies: 'read this book and fall in love with life'
on 9 January 2001
Blauby - Editor in Chief at Paris Elle magazine suffers a sudden stroke and falls into a coma. When he comes around he has lost all muscular usage and is unable to control any function except the flutter of his left eye-lid, and yet his mind is unscathed. This "locked-in syndrome" has the effect of trapping him in his diving bell and yet his eye-lid flutters enable him not only to communicate with the outside world, but also to write this remarkable and simply brilliant book. The use of language, the descriptive narrative, and the spirit with which he observes the ongoing world outside of his immobile and yet completely disrupted life is awesome. An absolute must for everyone.
on 7 March 2007
This is the kind of book that only comes along once in a lifetime. Imagine an disabled author who dictates the entirety of a book simply by the movements of his left eyelid, the only movement his disability will allow. This may seem amazing but it is true. The result is a thoroughly absorbing and moving story of a remarkable man's experiences living with a condition (Locked In Syndrome)which renders himself incapable of movement, expressing emotion or communication yet whose faculties and mind work perfectly. He likens it to physically existing in the restrictive conditions of a diving bell yet possessing the free and energetic mind of a butterfly, hence the book's title.
Credit must go to the scribe of the book whose patience and dedication to bringing this remarkable story to print are awe inspiring. The book, while understandably short, cannot fail to impress and evoke emotion in the reader. The most poignant part of the whole episode is that Bauby died three days after the book was first published, to me this shows both the power of the human spirit to see a job through to the end and its weakness in the face of death.
Remarkable in every way.
on 27 March 2008
I admit it, i'm emotional; I cried at this book, but for good reason;
The brain rarely fails, but when it does, god almighty, does it fail!
I couldn't bear reading this book for longer then a few moments at a time, because I knew what was happening to him.
Nevertheless, to place it in the context of the reader; imagine your arms, your legs, everything being tied down, tied down so tight you can't feel them, you can't feel your heart, nor your lungs. You have yourself, your brain. That's all.
Terrifying, and a grim reminder of what awaits us if we do not take care of our brain.