Review – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Cover of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Dominique BaubyThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby

When reviewing a book like this, do you consider the sheer effort that went into this? Every word of this was written by dictation — by Bauby blinking when the right letter came up, one letter at a time. We’re told he could only blink one eye (though that seems odd when elsewhere he mentions that he can move his head a little). Every word of this is from a strange world where the speaker can no longer move, no longer do anything physical voluntarily. All he had were his thoughts: were they worth all this effort? Can you talk about it being worth it?

I was actually recommended this when I did a Coursera course about neurobiology, and the lecturer was quite enthused. Certainly, it’s an interesting window into what it would be like to be locked in: sometimes, Bauby’s descriptions are perfect, both of the world only he can know and of the world that he lost. The feelings, the gamut of expectations, fears, depression…

At other times, the writing does seem stilted, self-pitying, or just plain away with the fairies. That’s not to belittle Bauby’s achievement, or speak ill of the dead, or anything like that. In part, I suspect some of that is because I can’t see how he could possibly have edited the book effectively. That would have to be done by others, or not done at all — where do you risk cutting a word, trimming a sentence? How could you add something he didn’t say?

And then there’s the fact that this was made into a film, and the book I read was the movie tie-in edition. That seems to make light of the whole situation, and makes me wonder things like: who gets the profits? I hope it was the charitable endeavours Bauby himself got involved with.

Rating: 3/5

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