My Life In Books: Selene Mortimore

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly // Jean Dominique Bauby

What can I say; I’m a sucker for what could be arguably a depressing genre of books.

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly is a truly, truly incredible, and dare I say an inspiring book. It’s Bauby’s autobiography, but with a serious, serious twist. Bauby was the editor for the French edition of Elle Magazine; he was stylish, powerful, and cool (like most depictions of French men…). Bauby suffered from a massive stroke that left him with Locked-In Syndrome. Locked-In Syndrome is a condition in which your mental ability remains fully intact, but you cannot move. Bauby was left unable to move any part of his body, apart from for blinking with his left eye. It is with his left eye that he completely dictated a whole book. Bauby edited and composed this entire book in his head and using a system called partner-assisted scanning he dictated the book to interlocutor, Claude Mendibil using a rearranged French alphabet (the most frequently used letters at the beginning and the lesser towards the end). Each word took on average two minutes to complete, and the whole book, one blink at a time, took around 4 hours a day for 10 months to complete. The circumstances surrounding the book are unfathomably awful, and Bauby didn’t refrain from expressing this, but when he reached an acceptance there was some humour: at one point he says “If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere.” Of course it’s a pretty horrifying statement to most, but the humour within it is admirable. Apart from being an absolutely incredible feat, the book is full of rich, poetic imagery that really is so beautiful. Whenever I have a moment of ‘I can’t do this anymore, I want to give up,’ I pick up The Diving Bell And The Butterfly and read it again to remind myself that if Bauby could do this, I can certainly do that.

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