The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

This is not really a review of this book because I read it about 8 or 9 years ago. To properly review it I would need to read it again, and I think I am going to add it to my personal challenge list for next year. The reason why I have brought it up is because this fantastic, unusual and enlightening book has been made into a movie which I saw over the weekend.
This book was recommended to me in about 1998. It is only a small book in size, so quick to read, but huge in its bravery, optimism and inspiration.
It is the true story of the editor of Elle magazine in Paris, a successful journalist, a womaniser, a father of three, who suffers a stroke at 42 years old and as a consequence suffers the rare and agonizing condition of 'locked-in syndrome'. This is where the mind functions normally but the body is entirely paralyzed, only able to communicate with one eyelid. It is with this eyelid he is able to dictate his book, with the help of his dedicated speech therapists, family members and the publishers, letter by letter as they go through the alphabet and he blinks on the right letter. A painstaking work of love and determination, his book tells of his experiences with an eloquance, humour and insight which can only inspire the reader.
Sadly, Bauby died in 1997, just months after the book was published, but he has managed to voice a truly moving account of his thoughts, his imagination and his condition. It is not depressing, although I got a little teary in parts, and it has been on my 'books you should read' list forever.
I was intrigued about how on earth they were going to make this into a film, about a man who cannot move at all, his thoughts and feelings. It could have been awash in sentiment and sympathy, or too light and fluffy. Or even the opposite, dreary and grey. But I honestly think they have got it spot on. It is a vibrant piece of work. The cinematography is wonderful and the movie sticks pretty faithfully to the book. The performances and casting are excellent in a film that must have been quite an undertaking. It is entertaining, moving, imaginative and does full justice to Bauby's words. I loved it and wanted to urge people to read the book or watch the film. Both are excellent and will make a difference to those who encounter them.
It is not often that a movie can be said to match a book but both hold their own this time within their own form, and come out very much on top.
Click here for a review of the film by someone who has also suffered a stroke:-
You can click on the following link for a reading guide to the book:-


Jeane said...

I've had this book on my TBR for some time. It sounds excellent, and I think you did a great job describing it in spite of so many years passing since you read it.

Gentle Reader said...

I have the DVD of this movie sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to get up the guts to see it--I think I will, soon. Thanks for the review! I will probably read the book, too :)

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye