The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
Genre: Classics, Fiction
Originally Published: 1963
Format: Kindle (244 pages)
Goodreads: Book Author
Synopsis: 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.
My Rating: ★★★★
This book is so important. I had heard so many people talking about this book and see so many reviews on Goodreads. It had been on my tbr for quite some time, but I am so glad that I read it when I did. This book has so many important messages, aside from the satirical descriptions of 1950s New York society, this book is full of emotion, sadness and breathtaking honesty.
Knowing about Sylvia Plath’s own struggle with suicidal depression and her self-destruction makes this all the more harrowing. This is a semi-autobiographical novel and you can easily pick out the comparison between Sylvia and Esther, her fictional self. As I read on, I could feel Esther growing further away from me as she succumbed further to her depression and suicidal thoughts. I desperately wanted to save her, I wanted to pull her close and hold her and tell her everything would be okay. But I couldn’t.
During Esther’s time at the numerous asylum’s she occupies, we learn the stories of other mentally ill women. Women who were subjected to electroshock therapy and kept away from society. Some of them made it, some of them didn’t. At the end of the novel, we see Esther saying goodbye to somebody she thought had escaped the asylum and mental illness. A heart breaking truth for Esther is that she may never escape how she feels. We are left pondering Esther’s future on the last page as she looks to life after the asylum, but it is with great sadness that we realise Plath herself did not get the same optimistic ending she penned for Esther.
What did I love most about the book?
The honesty. This novel is brutally honest about how it feels to truly suffer with depression. Depression is so much more than a feeling of sadness, it is a feeling of complete emptiness. Due to her own personal experience, Plath captures Esther’s feelings so accurately that they are painful to read. Painful because we desperately want to help her, but we can’t. Reflecting how it must feel to be depressed; wanting something/someone to help but feeling that it/they can’t.
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”
“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
“The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.”
“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
I can’t remember the last time a book affected me as deeply as this one. Plath’s choice of words and writing style really bring back the sadness, emptiness and emotionless feelings that so many people suffer with. I think that at some point in our lives everyone can relate to Esther in some way, some more than others, but we all have moments where we have questioned our lives. That’s why this novel is so important and always will be.