I’m Still Here (Je Suis Là) by Clélie Avit
Published on August 23, 2016
Elsa has been in a coma for five months. With all hope of reviving her gone, her family and doctors are having to face the devastating fact that it might be time to turn off her life support… They don’t realise that in the past few weeks Elsa has regained partial consciousness; she knows where she is and can hear everyone talking around her bed, but she has no way of telling them she’s there.
Thibault is in the same hospital visiting his brother, a drunk driver responsible for the deaths of two teenage girls. Thibault’s emotions are in turmoil and, needing a retreat, he finds his way into Elsa’s room. Seeing her lying there so peacefully, he finds it hard to believe she is not just sleeping.
Thibault begins to visit Elsa regularly. As he learns more about her through her family and friends, he begins to realise that he is developing feelings for her. And when he talks to her, he can’t help feeling that she can hear his every word…
For Elsa, his visits are like a breath of fresh air. Here is finally someone who speaks to her as if she is a real life person. Who makes her laugh. And who gives her something to fight for…
And so begins a love story that might just save both their lives…
“I’m cold. I’m hungry. I’m frightened.”
And so begins this extraordinary story of Elsa and Thibault, who meet purely by accident while she is in a coma. The story is vibrant and alive even though much of is it set in a hospital.
Elsa was a fearless and experienced mountain climber who was critically injured in a tragic climbing accident. The accident left her in a coma from which it seems that she will never awaken.
“Elsa is the mountains. When you walk across a mountain with her it’s like seeing her and it stripped bare. Open to possibilities. All her emotions are raw. She’s wonderful.”
Elsa is trapped within her own body but she can hear everything around her. She guesses that she is in a hospital but she can’t feel anything. She can hear her parents approach her hospital bed, but she can only guess that they kiss her on the cheek or touch her arm. She can hear her sister’s constant chattering, but cannot feel if someone moves her or adjusts her tubes.
Elsa desperately wants to move and to cry out but she can’t even feel her vocal chords so she does not know if she even has the ability to speak. Into this world literally stumbles Thibault, who is trying to escape his own personal hell: his brother has caused a terrible accident and Thibault cannot bring himself to visit yet.
I was incredibly moved by this story and the touches of beauty and humanity and even humor. I was astounded by the ethical questions this book raises about hospital care and outraged by the sometimes careless way that Elsa was treated, even by her family.
“They are whispering to each other. I hate it. You’d think they had just stepped into a mortuary. I want to cry out that I’m still here, alive, right next to them, but they carry on talking in low voices as though they don’t want me to hear them.”
Thibault is the only one who treats Elsa like a human being and speaks to her normally. She is a bright spot in Thibault’s life and he finds her extraordinarily beautiful even in her absolute stillness. Elsa begins to crave his visits and longs for the moment when she can move or even open her eyes to see him.
“…Thibault is different. He’s my secret. He’s my breath of fresh air. Even though I don’t have a clue what he looks like.”
I’m Still Here is a very powerful debut from Clélie Avit. It is an incredibly thought-provoking and humane story that can be read in one sitting. I was absolutely enthralled from the very beginning and highly recommend this very unusual and satisfying book!
“I’m in love with a girl in a coma. And for the moment, it seems like the most sensible thing that has ever happened to me.”
(ARC provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clélie Avit was born and raised in the Auvergne region of France. She works as a physics and chemistry teacher, while also teaching dance. Avit received the Prix Nouveau Talent for I’m Still Here (Je Suis La), her first novel.