This book was a Christmas present and (spookily) the one I read straight after Marian Keyes’ ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ – and the spookiness will be apparent to those who’ve read it.
I don’t tend to read non-fiction much – certainly not autobiographies because they make me feel inferior and I don’t need a book to do that to me – although I did start reading ‘Oh Lucky Man’ when it came out (the Michael J Fox autobiography) but didn’t finish it. The only biography I’ve read is ‘Dark Quartet’ which centres on the Bronte family and absolutely loved it. And I do have a couple of other memoirs on my TBR shelf (one Hilary Mantel). Anyway, I’m digressing.
After suffering a massive stroke, Jean Dominique-Bauby, editor-in-chief of French Elle and the father of two young children, found himself completely paralysed and speechless. Able to move only one eyelid, he ‘dictated’ this remarkable book.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly records Bauby’s lonely existence but also the ability to invent a life for oneself if the most appalling of circumstances. It is a remarkable book about the triumph of the human spirit.
And I read this book in a completely different way to the way I read some other books – I felt myself savouring it because of how difficult it had been for the author to formulate each individual word, each sentence structure and how much importance he must have placed on every word before ‘spelling it out’ to his transcriber whilst he lay motionless on his hospital bed, flickering his left eyelid for each letter.
I know that books like this are lauded for the way they have the ability to make the ‘average person’ thankful, grateful and positively enthusiastic to be leading their normal everyday existence, because of the terrible condition that the author is in – but it didn’t do that to me. It did make me wonder whether I’d ever have been interested in reading about the Editor-in-Chief of Elle Magazine had he not had a near fatal heart attack and rendered paralysed for the remainder of his days, and also whether (in the days before his incapacitation) he’d have ever written anything as soul-searching and reflective as this – because let’s face it – life’s usually too hectic to stop and take stock and relive moments in one’s life – unless one’s actually getting paid for the retelling of such things.
So I really enjoyed it. But I’m not sure I enjoyed it for the ‘right reasons’.. It didn’t make me want to go outside and embrace the first person I saw because I could actually move and speak and feel. I didn’t mind who he’d been before; it was more the conditions under which he had written this book and being able to ‘see’ what was inside the mind of a person facing such terrible constraints which I found the more compelling.
So it had a ‘good effect’ on me for about 36 hours. I found myself appreciating the ability of speech and movement and good health and it made me wonder what medical conditions might have led to the author’s terrible fate, but above all it made me realise that we all, whoever we are, whoever we’ve been and wherever we go – have an imagination and sensitivities that we don’t always have the time or ability to stop and consider enough during our busy days. And I suppose I read it at the right time – because I now have more ‘time’ than I’ve historically had – and the opportunity to translate ‘stuff’ in my head onto a screen or a piece of paper – and it won’t take me nearly a day to write one paragraph. So it has made me sit at this screen more often than usual. Just in case.
9/10 – A book to savour; one I’d recommend and definitely read again.