Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Diving down

What fascinating posts on Bauby! I especially liked Valerie's point about the film genre/treatment perfectly suiting the subject of the book. How rare is that? I think the lyrical cinematography emphasised the lyrical prose, making the whole thing more like a dream and less like the grim reality it was. So, no, it wasn't exactly uplifting, but definitely not as much of a downer as the book. Somehow life seemed to be emphasised by seeing live figures (especially those helping). I suppose I felt less locked in by the film since I could see things which the prose couldn't actually show me. But yes - utterly grim situation, and confirmed my lifelong gut reaction that people in comas probably know far more than we realise, so you have to be awfully careful what you decide on their behalf. And Pella was absolutely on the money about the fundamental disconnect between people (very EM Forster) and also within ourselves. How often do we express what we mean without accidentally upsetting someone, or carry through what we intended?

Saw Atonement recently and was astonished at such a faithful adaptation. Similarly felt that the director was committed to conveying what the author meant rather than what the director thought would have been more commercially viable. Is SUCH a relief in both cases not to come away regretting having seen the film version.

As for the Stevie Smith, I think it's an inspired link to Bauby. And astonishing for the worlds it creates - both of a swimmer and of a life lived bleakly - in so few lines. You absolutely can't beat poetry for economy when it puts its mind to it! I was struck by the poem's identification of how we tend to put a comforting gloss on symptoms (weeping, smiling desperation) because it's so much easier to deal with. And how often, when we succumb to visible misery, are people insistent upon finding the one thing which has upset us and which might be fixable, when so often it's a culmination of many complex things, hard to articulate and all, finally just too much.

And yet I also feel I don't know half of what the poem's on about. The meanings and significances seem to shift, rather like the waves, so I'm not sure quite where I am. Which is, I suppose, pretty apt for the subject matter(s). In that, very different to the Bauby, which I experienced as a very straightforward text. Quite rightly, his priorities were clarity and brevity, and he was denied the opportunity to play with the genre in the way Smith can. Which I suppose gives weight to (I think it was) Val's concern that we value the book largely because of its circumstances, and would do so less if it was fiction because we would have had less sympathy and because we would have expected more reflection and craft. But I'm not sure I could see the point of a fictional one of these - the insight into locked-in reality is only bearable to me if I feel it's genuinely opening up. A fictional version, lacking this, would be bleaker.