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If This Book Doesn't Make You Sit Back & Think, I Don't Know What Will
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.