Le Scaphandre et le Papillon [The Diving Bell and the Butterfly] (Jean-Dominique Bauby)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the autobiographical book by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Bauby suffered from a stroke at age 43, which left him completely incapable to move, except for his left eyelid. The book describes his life before the stroke and also his experiences suffering from the Locked-In Syndrom: having completely intact mental faculties, yet being unable to move at all.

The book is widely known and was also adapted into a movie. It’s a fascinating story and Bauby can only be admired for writing it. Yet the book itself is not very good. The prose is rather purple, the structure confusing and even though it’s really short I had to force myself to finish it (I probably wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been so short).

I borrowed the book from my mum and when she asked me how I liked it, I said that I thought his writing style meanders. [Which immediately made me think of the Fawlty Towers episode where a young guy checks into the hotel and John Cleese is totally jealous of him because all the women love this guy. And everywhere JC goes, he always hears the punchline of the joke the guy told: “Pretentious? Moi???”] The look on my mom’s face: Priceless.
Anyway, I know this sounds kind of stupid and, yes, completely pretentious but I don’t know how to explain it better than this.  But where a landscape with a meandering river is absolutely beautiful, with prose it doesn’t work, for me at least. I think it’s supposed to be poetic language, but it goes from here to there and never seems to touch the important points.
[I have to point out that I read the German translation of the book and as usual, I can’t tell you where the translation starts and the novel ends, so you can choose to pinpoint this particular thing to the author or the translator.]

Also, the structure of the novel annoyed me. I don’t mind a non-linear story: you want to jump around between timelines? Be my guest. But if you do that make sure that you introduce characters. Bauby seems to assume most of the time that people know his friends or the name of his wife or other stuff like that. Well, I don’t. And if you, like me, don’t know, the non-linear telling gets tired pretty quickly.

So, if you’re interested, by all means read it; it only takes a couple of hours. But I don’t think that you’re missing the world if you don’t.

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