Die A Melancholy Death

I bought two books from HMV (it’s kind of strange that they’re selling books,but their collection is a pretty interesting mix of music-related books and some best-sellers and movie tie-ins) when I was waiting for a friend who was late. The kind of impulsive things I’d do,yes,I know. Tsk tsk.

Anyway,I chose to bring home Tim Burton’s ‘The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories’ and Jean-Domnique Bauby’s memoir ‘The Diving-Bell and The Butterfyl’ (Le Scaphandre et le Papillion). I guess it was interesting that I found this connection between the two books. Let me explain.

I like Tim Burton’s movies,and the world that he paints and draws us into. I’ve always been fascinated by dark and gothic images,and watching Tim Burton’s creations is such a joy,because his brand of gore and horror is so strangely comforting and breathtaking. I think we all have a heart of darkness in us,that deep and secret little pocket inside our souls that is desperate,in pain,and which is best kept from view from everyone else. But in Tim Burton’s works,he confronts these little pockets of darkness in us–whether it’s prejudice,hatred,violence,or marginalisation–he presents them in his signature style of humour,which makes it even more difficult to stomach as the darkness stares you in the face as you smile a smile that is hardly forced.

In this book,which is a collection of pictures with short poems about children with various defects and imperfections,we see creepy tales of these children who are misunderstood,marginalised,abandoned by the adults or by their peers. They are sad outcasts in their own little world,and this feeling of not belonging and feeling like a perpetual outsider looking into another world which has conveniently left them behind is pervasive throughout the book.

In the title story,Oyster Boy was born to parents who had not expected their son to be born differently–and different not in a way they would have liked. From the lines,”when would young Oyster Boy come out of his shell?”,I think he could perhaps have been born with autism,but as it is,it takes some time before the doctors can confirm. And so the parents,feeling frustrated over their son’s condition,to the point that it’s affecting their sex life,decided to get rid of the boy.

The rest of the stories run along similar veins,portraying this deep sense of feeling out of place,feeling like you don’t belong,and feeling like everyone else is staring at you because you’re not ‘like them’. It’s very heartbreaking to read this book,because I think everyone can probably relate more or less to that sense of being marginalised. I must say that the pictures complement the stories really well. As you pore through one after another of rhyming poems of cruel worlds,the pictures illustrate that twisted and queer little world excellently. You can find the entire collection here.

Now,the connection lies in the part about death. Given the sad state of abandonment these strange characters face,death becomes somewhat of a metaphor for their wish to escape from the world that torments them so. It symbolises a death of hope,where they are resigned to their fates,and they dare not hope in vain that anyone can save them and pick them up from the mess they’re in,not by their choice.

This sense of resignation is present in Bauby’s memoir too,but it’s of a slightly different nature. Bauby was probably resigned to ‘Locked-In Syndrome’, but instead of allowing himself to be subjected to the cruelty of fate entirely,he faces up to his condition,and painstakingly finished his memoir solely through the blinking of his left eye,since he’s paralysed nearly entirely.

while I was reading the book,I kept feeling like I could never finish it,even though the book is only over a 100 pages long. I guess it was because I felt the excruciating pain and effort it took for him to ‘write’ every word. With every word that I so carefully pored over,I just felt like this is going to take damn long because I couldn’t very well just finish his hard work so quickly. It’s like I’d be trivialising something.

But I did eventually finish it reasonably quickly enough,and his treatment of his imminent death and his condition is pretty optimistic,to say the least. The book is peppered with sardonic humour,and about what it means to live. I could really feel his passion for life as I chewed every word back and forth. It’s a very beautiful memoir that anyone and everyone who feels like life is leaving you behind should read. You can find out more about the book and the movie here. I was fortunate enough to catch the film too,and it’s a very honest,faithful and touching portrayal and representation of the book. Catch it!

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