Depressing yet surprisingly tender.
About The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel. The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman's mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly-written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman's descent into insanity.
My two centsWho hasn't heard of Sylvia Plath, the brilliant poet who committed suicide at a young age? That's as much as I know about her, unfortunately. This is one of those books that has remained on my TBR but never gets read; a classic that begs for attention but gets cast aside for the newer things that come my way.
I have to be honest with you. The reason I finally picked this up is because I'll be reviewing an autobiography Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder and I didn't want to sound totally clueless. Thank goodness for these opportune kick-in-the-pants moments.
This is the journey of smart, young, ambitious promising Esther Greenwood in the 1950s from naive to jaded, from success to depression.
I could feel Esther's excitement at the opportunity and honour of being a guest editor in a prestigious magazine: oh the glamorous clothes, the photo shoots, the hobnobbing, free lunches, caviar. It's all enough to turn a young girl's head.
But things soured very quickly and the glitter and glamour only gave way to work, pressure, conformity, depression. This is the bell jar: Esther the specimen under scrutiny, the jar the suffocating reality in which she had to exist.
***I found that reading this book was a rollercoaster ride. It's emotionally exhausting and heavily depressing, but at the same I felt oddly tender towards Esther. At times I found some scenes strangely hilarious in a shocking sort of way. There are those times when I felt I really couldn't breathe with the horrific descriptions of shock therapy, self-inflicted pain, and just the sheer mental anguish -- then juxtapose this with mundane descriptions about eating caviar (and lots of it), or a rather embarrassing sexual exploit, or of witnessing a live birth (that'll put anyone off from having kids).
I was quite affected by this book as this is told in first person. It's like getting into Esther's head which isn't a very pretty place to be (Thank goodness I'm not depressed or I may have been more affected by this novel than I would have cared to be). Esther is an astute observer and her descriptions of people, her love interests, situations and emotions are spot on, have an uncanny brevity, and interesting word choices and metaphors.
Plath also has quite the commentary about women during the 1950s, and Esther wasn't going to be one of them, she was among those breaking out of the mold.
Once when I visited Buddy I found Mrs. Willard braiding a rug out of strips of wool from Mr. Willard's old suits. She'd spent weeks on that rug, and I had admired the tweedy browns and greens patterning the braid, but after Mrs. Willard was through, instead of hanging the rug on the wall the way I would have done, she put it down instead of a kitchen mat, and in a few days it was soiled and dull and indistinguishable from any mat you could buy for under a dollar in the five and ten.
And I knew in spite of all the roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showered on a woman before he married her, what he secretly wanted was her to flatten out under his feet like Mrs. Willard's kitchen mat. - p. 82
I'm a little smitten with Plath's writing and will now be checking out her poetry. And it looks like I'll be rereading this one too -- it's worth a closer look. Just let me recover.