The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Published June 8, 2013 by bibliobeth

The Bell Jar: A Novel

What’s it all about?:

Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity.

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

What did I think?:

I have been eager to read this book for some time, and on finishing it am glad that I have done so, however it has left me feeling ever so slightly disturbed. The fall of Esther Greenwood into madness slotted quite easily into the realms of possibility, and felt incredibly real to me as a reader as we seem to understand and descend into insanity with her. Some of her descriptions of her depression and resulting emotions, are harrowing at best, as it seems to parallel Plath’s own mental breakdown and suicide attempt.

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

“The trouble about jumping was that if you didn’t pick the right number of stories, you might still be alive when you hit bottom.”

Like her character Esther, Sylvia Plath interned for a fashion magazine in New York, was intelligent and successful, and was then admitted to a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt. Knowing this as a reader, it only serves to make statements like the above quotes more poignant and haunting. All her life, Esther seems to be searching for a father figure, as she describes when she last felt happy – at nine years old just before her father died. This is why she seems to have such trouble with men, no-one being good enough, or feeling that she was not good enough for them. There are echoes of her self pity and self-hatred throughout the novel as she comes to terms with the fact that she does not want to live.

This is a book with such beautiful imagery and use of language that it will stay with me for a long time, and I would now love to read some of Plath’s poetry and compare it with this, her only novel. For anyone suffering with depression, or those that don’t really “get” depression, I highly recommend this book. For the former, it is perhaps a sort of comfort knowing that you are not alone, for the latter to understand and respect this distressing and debilitating condition.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



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