Renny’s Review

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


photo credit: Fiona Duffy

Jean-Dominique Bauby, the author of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, wrote the entire book in his mind. His nurse had a card of letters, and Bauby would blink when she pointed to the next letter that he had in mind.

Though The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a short read at 132 pages, the late Editor-in-Chief of French Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby, exemplifies the mighty powers of alternative communication, resilience, and expressing love towards others. In December of 1995, Bauby suffered a debilitating stroke that caused him to spend 20 days in a coma, and then subsequently rendered him paralyzed everywhere except for his left eyelid. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Bauby’s memoir is that it was composed using a technique called partner-assisted scanning. Bauby’s nurse, Claude Mendibil, read a list of the most common letters in the French language, and when she reached the intended letter for a word, Bauby would blink his eye.

From 1995 to 1997, Jean-Dominique Bauby drafted and edited the entire story within his brain. The novel is both disheartening and cathartic as we bear witness to Bauby’s frustration of being “locked” in his own body, but also the joy and euphoria that he feels when with his children, his wife, and writing. Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a poignant collection of thoughts regarding attachment, fatherhood, pain, and acceptance. Though he succumbed to pneumonia tragically two days after the memoir was published, his words commemorate a life lived in courage and understanding the world around.