Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (1997)

I REMEMBER READING French fashion magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir of life in death, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), when the English translation by Jeremy Leggatt first came out a little over 10 years ago in May 1997. After suffering a devastating stroke in December 1995, Bauby, who was then just 43 years old, emerged with a rare affliction called “locked-in syndrome” (LIS), perhaps the most devastating of medical conditions. Though he retained his vision and hearing, and his mind continued to function perfectly, his body was almost totally paralysed. Mobility and speech was no longer within his grasp. He wrote his memoir by blinking his left eyelid. Sadly, he died a few days after the release of the French edition of the book, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, an exquisitely lyrical little book, in March 1997. It’s good to know that French director Julian Schnabel has now made a movie based on Bauby’s story. It stars Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner and Marie-Josée Croze. I heard it is pretty good: an expansive, sensual, pungent and funny film, a joyful celebration of the triumph of the human spirit. “Although he doesn’t identify himself as a writer,” Sanford Schwartz in a review of the film says that, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an astonishing report from so damaged and deprived a state of being that most of us resist imagining what it would be like in such a situation. It is also, unbelievably, a wry, tender, and beautifully measured piece of writing.”


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