The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby – a review

Occasionally you happen across something that so perfectly distills the human experience,  its striving against the inevitable, that the world appears differently afterwards. I had this feeling the first time I saw the movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, directed by Julian Schnabel. a man is locked within his body after a stroke, his only means of connecting with the outside world through blinking one eye.  He is at the mercy of the world, of his nurses, of his therapists, of pretty much anyone who can lift an arm and has an aggressively minor grasp of physical ability. It was something I can’t really say I had experienced since. There have been some very good books and movies but nothing that I could honestly call transcending. Malick’s The Tree of Life maybe came the closest.

Like all good English majors and lit bloggers, I had the original memoir on my shelf for over  a year now. While Borders was going through its death throes I spied it among the jetsam on one of the shells, inevitably crammed in somewhere it didn’t belong. Nothing belonged anywhere as those stores closed their doors. They just worked at condensing the books into an ever smaller space, which resulted in strange bedfellows (though it also resulted in me hauling together damn near the entire translated works of Roberto Bolano).

Considering its brevity I’m not sure why I hadn’t gotten around to reading before now. Maybe it was the memory of the initial power of the movie, not wanting something to creep into that space. It seems to be the standard line to say movies never live up to the books,but I find it’s often because people have an irrational love for every bit of minutia in a book’s pages giving them reason to overlook what a director actually puts on the screen. we may not like it, but a lot of  book isn’t always necessary to tell the story that’s being told, and all of those little extras occasionally need to be sacrificed, and probably should be sacrificed for a transition to the visual.

Anyway, I finally plucked the thing off the shelf, at least partially because it was so short and I wanted something that I could read quickly. I did read it quickly, but not because it was short. It was that damn good. There are differences between it and the movie, as there must be, and I’m hesitant to say one is any “better” than the other. While they tell the same story, they tell it differently and each method has a movement all of its own.

So if you’ve seen the movie but haven’t picked up the memoir it was based 0n, check it out. It won’t disappoint and it won’t dim your appreciation of the movie. They can exist symbiotically.

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One Response to “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby – a review”

  1. Hannah Burke Says:

    I am studying this book next semester and after reading this review am quite looking forward to it!

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