The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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How to buy it: QBD the Bookshop, $19.99

When can I get my hands on it: Now!

What am I in for: semi-autobiographic, NYC setting, mental asylums, discussions of virginity, 1950s attitudes

TRIGGER WARNING: suicide

The 50th Anniversary edition of one of the defining novels of the 20th century.

‘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.

“I took a deep breath and listened to that old brag of my heart. I am. I am. I am.”

It is hard to say I enjoyed this book, but I definitely appreciated it. The Bell Jar is the story of a woman who is struggling figure out who she is in a world that wants her to fit a particular mould.

The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood who suffered from depression, at the very least, in a time when mental health for women was based purely on male opinions of female emotion, namely we are hysterical and we must be lacking some kind of domestic hobby in order to be happy because we couldn’t possibly feel oppressed when we have a house, husband and children to take care of.

The Bell Jar is a combination of many things, it’s a feminist novel, it’s a study of mental health, it’s a study of human relations. From the very first page, I felt an affinity with Esther, whether it’s because she is pessimistic and cynical (two traits women of her time shouldn’t have) or because she clearly wanted more than the world was ready to make available for her, I really can’t say.

I found the writing to be a little bit nonsensical in some places, but I also felt that this was not a negative to the text. It merely illustrated the state of Esther’s mind. What I struggled with was the parts of the text where one paragraph would finish one event very suddenly before the next would start on another entirely different event, often a huge leap forward in the timeline.

This novel had a profound affect on me and I’m glad I still possess the mindset to appreciate it. I’ve often found that many novels that are considered classics or seminal reading, often have to be appreciated and read at a certain age, or you miss the point entirely. The Catcher in the Rye is another good example.

Everybody with a passion for literature is aware of the outcome of Sylvia Plath’s life, this book was her cry for help. Unfortunately, she was Esther Greenwood, a woman with mental health issues so complex that the world she lived in was not advanced enough to help her, the world she lived in thought she had “nothing to be sad about.”

This book has a lot of darkness, it is stressful, taught, honest, confusing, shattering, immature, wise. I could go on with the adjectives forever, but whatever words I come up with will do no justice to experience I feel like I have gained for reading it. The thing to know when reading The Bell Jar is that it is polarising, both in the results people get reading it and in the writing and Esther’s story. She is a contradiction, she is a mystery.

-Sam xxoo

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