Book Reviews, Books and Me

Review: The Diving-Bell and The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

The Diving-Bell and The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby 4/5

Blurb: In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young childen, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem.  After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book.

By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. He explains the joy, and deep sadness, of seeing his children and of hearing his aged father’s voice on the phone. In magical sequences, he imagines traveling to other places and times and of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavor of delectable dishes. Again and again he returns to an “inexhaustible reservoir of sensations,” keeping in touch with himself and the life around him.

Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. This book is a lasting testament to his life.


Firstly, just knowing that this book was written by the blinking of one eyelid and having those blinks translated by an alphabet chart is astounding. As a writer, perhaps that means even more to me. What a feat! I read the prologue and welled up a little. I knew I had to keep reading. Bauby’s beautiful prose and descriptions are made even more beautiful with the knowing of how much time and energy went into ‘blinking’ out the words.

Bauby had a rare, severe stroke at just 44 that damaged his brain stem, and subsequently suffered from ‘locked in syndrome.’ This novel recounts his memories from his life before, and his experiences after his stroke- some leave you in tears, and in awe of such a brave person. He writes with such raw honesty that it’s hard to imagine that the mind who wrote this novel is trapped in an uncooperative body. He could be raging mad, bitter, wallowing, but no, he has dignity trapped within his motionless shell.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is an eye opening read. You finish this book feeling motivated to live life to the fullest, and a little ashamed that you’ve taken your health for granted. I would definitely recommend this book. Now, I want to see the film.

The opinions expressed here are those of K.J.Chapman and no other parties.

All books reviewed on this blog have been read by K.J.Chapman.

K.J.Chapman has not been paid for this review.


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