The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

The Diving Bell and the ButterflyThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Finished 10-13-13, rating 2.5/5, memoir, 132 pages, pub. 1997

In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young childen, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem.  After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book.

By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. He explains the joy, and deep sadness, of seeing his children and of hearing his aged father’s voice on the phone. In magical sequences, he imagines traveling to other places and times and of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavor of delectable dishes. Again and again he returns to an “inexhaustible reservoir of sensations,” keeping in touch with himself and the life around him.

Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.   (from Goodreads)

I read this memoir during the 24 hour read-a-thon last month for the same reason I read the others, it was on my shelf and short.  I think I have owned this book since I lived in the Washington DC area 16+ years and 4 moves ago so I felt good about finally reading it!  Unfortunately, as much as I was riveted by the real life of Bauby and the tragedy of his end, this memoir just didn’t work for me.  And, yes, I feel bad saying that since the man wrote it by blinking his one good eye to convey every. single. letter.  It’s hard to critique that sort of accomplishment so I won’t.  I will just say that I think I would have preferred to read a biography capturing his whole life rather than this memoir version, but I totally respect the power of the human mind to overcome and Bauby is a perfect example.