Rating: 5/5 stars. Recommended!
Genre(s): Fiction; Modern Classic; Feminism
Published: November 20th 2008 by Faber and Faber. First published January 1963.
“I was supposed to be having the time of my life.
When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther’s life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt, as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women’s aspirations seriously.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, was originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel is partially based on Plath’s own life and descent into mental illness, and has become a modern classic. The Bell Jar has been celebrated for its darkly funny and razor sharp portrait of 1950s society and has sold millions of copies worldwide.”
I’m truly despaired after finding out that Sylvia Plath committed suicide not long after writing this novel.
I picked this book for the POPSUGAR challenge; it was suggested by a fellow participant in the Goodreads group. I tried looking it up in Borrowbox and voilà!
The Bell Jar is witty, enlightening, and grave all at the same time. What was the reading experience like? Well, Esther’s monologue consistently wanders off on a tangent and snaps back on track. It prevents the audience losing interest. Her little anecdotes are witty and entertaining, and reveal more about herself, that she’s honestly a smart young lady (in the truest sense of the word), and um, not so smart at times 😅.
Depression is the topic of this novel. A long time ago, I thought people with depression will always look sad or fatigued but that is not the case. It’s sometimes described as feeling numb and feels like something is weighing you down. We can see these hints here and there. Esther has great potential but is grounded by indecision. She is anxious and is scared of missing out. Her inability to do anything really surfaced after not being able to attain something she had always expected to be able to, which is getting accepted into a writing course she desired.
Readers get to see how people suffering from depression think. Esther has been unable to sleep and it has tempered with her logical reasoning. She gets to a state where her brain can’t help but overanalyse everything. This train of thought really moved me:
“The reason I hadn’t washed my clothes or my hair was because it seemed so silly. I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue. It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next. It made me tired just to think of it. I wanted to do everything once and for all and be through with it.”
So… why is it called The Bell Jar? I have never heard this phrase being used in tandem with depression but after reading this book it’s suddenly popping up everywhere (Has this uncanny thing ever happened to you?).So for people out there who are in the same place I was, here it is:
“…wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
Trigger warning(s): sexual assault; depressive & suicidal thoughts and actions
Pages: 244 (Kindle)
This book ticks off item(s) from my reading challenges this year!
✅ B (A to Z Reading Challenge)
✅ 16: A book about mental health and; 31: A book mentioned in another book (2018 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge).
✅ 17: Under 250 pages (Full House Reading Challenge 2018)
About Sylvia Plath:
“Sylvia Plath (/plæθ/; October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Born in Boston, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a poet and writer. She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956, and they lived together in the United States and then in England. They had two children, Frieda and Nicholas, before separating in 1962.
Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for two of her published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel, and The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death. In 1982, she won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems.”
“In August of 1953, at the age of 19, Plath attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills. She survived the attempt and was hospitalized, receiving treatment with electro-shock therapy. Her experiences of breakdown and recovery were later turned into fiction for her only published novel, The Bell Jar.” (Source: The Poetry Foundation)