The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly

Memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby


'Locked-in syndrome: paralysed from head to toe, the patient, his mind intact, is imprisoned inside his own body, unable to speak or move. In my case, blinking my left eyelid is my only means of communication.' In December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of French 'Elle' and the father of two young children, suffered a massive stroke and found himself paralysed and speechless, but entirely conscious, trapped by what doctors call 'locked-in syndrome'. Using his only functioning muscle - his left eyelid - he began dictating this remarkable story, painstakingly spelling it out letter by letter. His book offers a haunting, harrowing look inside the cruel prison of locked-in syndrome, but it is also a triumph of the human spirit. The acclaimed 2007 film adaptation, directed by Julian Schnabel, won Best Director at Cannes and was nominated for the Palme d'Or.

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I find it hard to fault Bauby's work in any aspect, because it simply is what it is. It isn't quite a memoir, and moreso lands in an ambiguous genre of present and personal fiction - in the sense that recollections are not meant to be precise, but fill in gaps in the life of a man who can no longer live much in the present. It's beautiful, but brief.

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