''It is a simple enough system,'' he explains. ''You read off the alphabet . . . until, with a blink of my eye, I stop you at the letter to be noted. The maneuver is repeated for the letters that follow, so that fairly soon you have a whole word.'' Fairly soon! Less soon when the amanuensis anticipates and makes mistakes: ''One day when, attempting to ask for my glasses (lunettes), I was asked what I wanted to do with the moon (lune).''
Bauby allows that his ''communication system disqualifies repartee,'' but it does beautiful service to all sorts of physical and emotional description. ''There comes a time,'' he explains, ''when the heaping up of calamities brings on uncontrollable nervous laughter,'' but in this strong, slim volume the author displays a writerly control equal to his honesty: ''One day . . . I can find it amusing, in my 45th year, to be cleaned up and turned over, to have my bottom wiped and swaddled like a newborn's. I even derive a guilty pleasure from this total lapse into infancy. But the next day, the same procedure seems to me unbearably sad, and a tear rolls down through the lather a nurse's aide spreads over my cheeks.'' There are scenes in Bauby's narrative -- his discovery, in a windowpane, that he is not just ''reduced to the existence of a jellyfish'' but ''also horrible to behold'' -- that one might be inclined to describe as unbearably sad, if ''unbearable,'' thanks to this book, were not a word one will never again use quite so loosely.
Monday, October 20, 2008
In the Blink of an Eye - November's Book
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
An excerpt from Thomas Mallon's review for the New York Times: