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Read of the Week: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Written by The Reader, 6th September 2017

Our latest Read of the Week comes from Associate Director of Operations, Zoe, who has chosen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

“My cocoon becomes less oppressive and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wonder off in space or time. Set off for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’ Court. You can visit the woman you love, build castles in Spain…..fulfil your childhood dreams and ambitions”

Not really a novel, more a memoir, or perhaps you could even think of it as a series of very short stories that allow us glimpses into memories of Jean-Dominique Bauby (French actor and editor of Elle Magazine).

One of the reasons that this book is special is that it was written by Jean whilst suffering from ‘Locked-in Syndrome’. Paralyzed from head to toe after suffering a cerebro-vascular accident. Unable to speak or move, mind intact, imprisoned in his own body, Jean’s only means of communication was through blinking his left eyelid, and that is how the book was communicated and written.

The second, for me, is Jean’s ability to use his mind and his imagination to relieve himself from boredom, frustration and to remain mentally alert and to continue to want to live. This ability results in his accounts of life both before and after his condition being witty, contemplative, mischievous, and sometimes a bit angry. He tells them with feeling and they are easy to relate to.

I first read this book a long time ago, but Jean’s strength and patience has stayed with me. When those times that we all experience come along, when life feels a bit of a struggle, thinking of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, of Jean and of how he coped is often helpful to me.

“I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire just as much as I need to breathe. A letter from a friend, a Balthus paining on a postcard, a page of Saint-Simon, give meaning to the passing hours. But to keep my mind sharp. To avoid slumping into resigned indifference, I maintain a level of resentment and anger, neither too much nor too little, just as a pressure cooker has a safety valve to keep it from exploding."

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