Friday, May 02, 2008

'The Bell Jar'

by Sylvia Plath

Fiction/Semi-Autobiographical, originally published under a pseudonym in 1963
Faber and Faber UK, trade pb, 234 p.
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.
I don’t claim to know a lot about Sylvia Plath, only what I’ve picked up here and there, but I think that even someone who had never heard of her before would realise that she is writing from experience here. Like the blurb above says, Esther’s descent into madness is so real and yet logical, you feel like you understand what has brought her to this point. I don’t think it affected me as much as it might have had I read it at a younger age, but I can see how it has had a profound effect on many, and I’m glad I finally read it. She has written about a heavy subject in a way that is highly readable and accessible to anyone. As for her poetry, well, that unfortunately remains elusive and quite beyond me. I have put Ariel back on the shelf for the time being and will try again some other time.
"[W]herever 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."

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

"How did I know that someday - at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere - the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?"
My Rating: 3.5/5
(#17 for 2008, My Year of Reading Dangerously #4)


  1. I read this book a few years ago, I liked it, and at the same time, I do not know if this correct, she comitted suicide at such a young age...we will never know what writer she would have become, if her talent would have stood the course of time. She is mostly famous because she comitted suicide.

  2. I love The Bell Jar and the little I have read of her poetry. She obviosuly didn't have the happiest of lives killing herself by putting her head in an oven I believe. I don't think was very happy in her marriage poet Ted Hughes either. This is a book I definitely plan on reading again in the future, I am someone it has had a profound effect on along with Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel.

  3. I'm so glad to read your review, Tanabata. I recently was given a copy of this book and am looking forward to reading it. I admit to being a little nervous about the poetry aspects as I imagine I will have a similar experience as you.

  4. I haven't read any Sylvia Plath before. Maybe I just have too many preconceived ideas about her writing (or maybe not!). But I just haven't felt the need to be depressed lately!

  5. Madeleine- It is sad that she committed suicide at a young age and never got a chance to write more. The poems are a bit beyond me but I would've liked to read something else by her.

    Rhinoa- No she certainly didn't seem to have a happy life. The last quote I posted, that comes near the end of 'The Bell Jar', is quite sad and prophetic in retrospect.

    Literary Feline- 'The Bell Jar' was very easy to read and not at all intimidating. I'd always been nervous to read her work too but there was no reason to be, for the book at least. The poems in 'Ariel' though... another story entirely! I'll be interested to hear what you think.

    Stephanie- It's not a happy topic but it actually wasn't that depressing. Or maybe I've just read other books that were much more depressing (Oates for example). But there is certainly no need to read it if you're not in the mood for it. :)

  6. I read this in my late teens and it had quite an effect on me. At the time I could relate to what Esther Greenwood was feeling. As for her poetry, I have never been able to appreciate it as much as this book either.

  7. Great review! This one has been on my TBR for a really long time!

  8. Nymeth- I can completely understand it affecting you when you read it as a teen. I most likely would've related more to it then as well.

    Teddy Rose- I'd had it for quite a long time too. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

  9. This book has affected me in a lot of ways....Although I have never been in her shoes, strangely I have identified with her throughout the book.


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