Sylvia Plath's semi-autobiographical novel is a harrowing, thought provoking insight into the mind of a woman who is almost synonymous with mental illness.
Indeed, the mental health issue runs through the novel and the main character, who is based on Plath in a number of ways, spends a significant amount of time in a mental institution, dealing with the effects this has on her and her condition. The work provides a haunting insight to the reality of a mental illness, and how this affects the sufferer and their immediate family and friends.
From studying Plath's poetry, it can be clearly seen that the central character is based on the author. The most obvious representation comes from their conditions in the novel (bi-polar disorder, abandonment issues, a hint of an Electra Complez) and if you know anything about Plath, many short quotations in the novel take on a much more significant meaning than they would on their own. In fact, it is probably best to understand the writer's basic background before approaching the novel.
So far, I've painted a picture of a heavy, depressing read. Whilst I cannot deny that it is a heavy book dealing with a massive subject, I did not find it depressing in any way, but rather fascinating.
"The Bell Jar" is a crucial work of American literature, and is an essential purchase for any fan of Plath's work, or any fan of literature in general. Be warned, however, that it is a heavy book, particularly if you do not understand the background.