The Bell Jar Mass Market Paperback – 2 Jun 2005
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"'In looking at the madness of the world and the world of madness [this book] forces us to consider the great question posed by all truly realistic fiction: what is reality and how can it be confronted?' New York Times Book Review"
The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's groundbreaking semi-autobiographical portrait of a young woman struggling with depression as she follows her dreams to becoming a writer: the quintessential coming-of-age novel and a must-read for all teenage girls.See all Product description
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Uplifting it certainly isn't and disturbing, I found it so in places but I did read it in a couple of days as I felt I needed to get to the end.
Honestly it left me cold. Had Sylvia Plath lived would she be the icon she has become in death? I'm not sure. She could certainly write and of course Esther really is mostly living Sylvias own life experiences. They say write what you know and Sylvia Plath certainly did that.
I wish I could give this book a more positive review and it may be cool to idolize Sylvia Plath but it wasn't really for me nor do I consider it suitable reading for young vulnerable people struggling with mental health issues.
I'll go back to my chick lit and period dramas and keep MYSELF relatively sane.
Esther’s not quite feeling happy and satisfied since the beginning of Plath’s only novel, and the very ominous “I was supposed to be having the time of my life” immediately creates a feeling of unease. Her descent into depression is honestly depicted and brutal; it creates a knot in your stomach because it is so personal and relatable.
The struggle with herself and her reluctant, but fiercely human survival instincts (“[…] my heartbeat boomed like a dull motor in my ears. I am I am I am”), the expectations, the desire for independence, the frustration and the eventual numbness is not other-worldly. Instead, it is intimate and honest.
The road to recovery is slow, and Esther’s suspiciousness towards her support system and her own self is masterfully portrayed by someone who has clearly been through the experience. “How did [she] know that someday […] the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”
I wish I had studied this book at uni, so I could write essays on Plath’s masterpiece and its themes of feminism and depression. But, then again, I would not have been mentally or emotionally ready for it.
Before then she was horrible. Nasty to everyone and judgemental. After a horrible event, the nasty judgemental comments calmed down and the focus went to her sanity. It went dark but I loved it. It was fascinating and I was hooked. I have depression myself so I could relate to the pain which I think helped me empathise with her more. I just wish the first half had been shorter.
However, this book comes alive with Esther's story of how her life unravels and how, in the end, she is on the cusp of regaining control. Through the twists and turns of tragedy that pile up around her, we're brought into her world and are soon rooting for her to succeed. She is a sweet good-natured young woman who is clever, smart and coping with mental health issues.
The autobiographical nature of the story can never be overstated but it's so sad that Plath's fate was not the same as Esther's. I thought this book would be heavy-going but Plath's bright and sprightly description of Esther's world keeps everything moving at a good pace. Harrowing, beautiful and ultimately hopeful, this is a lovely story of coping with mental illness.
It seems Esther, the protagonist, went through similar things to Plath before she met the famous, English poet laureate Ted Hughes.
An excellent analysis of the failings of the mental health services and consequent alienation of young girls such as Esther, Joan and I imagine Sylvia Plath too :(
In England I believe mental health is less openly discussed and consequently we have a higher incidence of suicide than in America. It was in England in a freezing cold flat that Sylvia Plath ended her own life, using the gas from her oven. Along with being pleasant to read, this book highlights the despair and self deprecation that haunts people whose lives become so obsolete that they have to seek medical support.