The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

As I get older, one of the things I fear the most is having some catastrophic event happen that would take away my ability to function and be an independent person. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a short memoir written by Jean-Dominique Bauby, who at age 43 suffered a massive stroke which left him in a condition called “Locked-in Syndrome.” The damage from his stroke was so severe that, although his mental abilities were intact, the only control he retained was the ability to blink his left eye.

What a terrible thing to happen to a young father, or to anyone, but through the help of one of his nurses who put together a code board, this man was able to communicate with the outside world and dictated this memoir, blink by blink.

It is an amazing book simply because it exists. It is a poignant account of Bauby’s extraordinary life during the 15 months he survived in this condition. He shares his inner world with us — not just the losses, the grief, and the frustrations, but the memories that sustain him and the deep appreciation for the people that surround him and support him. Each daily occurrence takes on new importance through his eye, and his descriptions remind us not to take one single day or happening in our own lives for granted. The subtitle of this book is aptly named: “A Memoir of Life in Death,” but the “butterfly” of the title is also the perfect image of this man’s spirit that could rise above the prison of his own body and gently fly through time and human experience.

The film based on the book is available on DVD, but is somewhat controversial because of the changes made from the actual story. I’d like to see it, although I think I will wait for awhile. I want to continue to absorb this man’s words and story, and linger here awhile in his presence which gives such a new and acute awareness to the importance of the daily details of my own life.

This is my first book read for Callista’s Book-to-Movie Challenge.

7 thoughts on “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

  1. Marie

    A friend of mine recommended the movie to me but I like to read books before seeing the movie version — now if I can find it in my very tall TBR pile I’ll get started on it — your review reminded me that I’ve been meaning to do so for a while now! Thanks!


  2. Gentle Reader

    I’ve heard really good things about the movie, and I actually have a DVD copy, but I’ve hesitated to watch because I’d like to read the book first…I’ll have to get my hands on a copy.


  3. Gerda van der Heyde

    The movie is very much worth watching, in total quietness, it is shocking and amazing and very very moving. I have not read the book, but did watch the movie, so I cannot compare them but I know the movie is one of my best ever seen.


  4. Robin

    Marie, I like to read a book before seeing the movie, too. This book is a powerful experience, so I imagine that the movie would also be very powerful.

    Gentle Reader, I will definitely see the movie before too long, but I’m glad I read the book first.

    Hi Gerda, I’m glad to hear your thoughts about the movie, and look forward to seeing it soon. It sounds like it was very well done.


  5. Bookfool

    Oh, that’s interesting! I’ve heard of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but I don’t believe I’ve ever picked up a copy to see what it’s about. Thanks for the review! You’ve made me want to rush right out and buy a copy.


  6. Robin

    Hi Bookfool, I had heard the title, but knew nothing about the book until a friend told me I should read it. It’s worth reading!

    Tara, I’d really like to see to see the film now. I’ve read that the filming of it was very unusual and very powerful.



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