I've read Sylvia Plath's Ariel for my poetry class one semester in college and considering myself far from an exponent of poetry, I do believe it's one of the best ways to purge the streams of emotion that you can't properly communicate simply in conversation with another person. Out of the four authors we read for her class, she was neck and neck with another as my favorite study in the class. So when my sister and I decided to make our on little book club, I thought what could go wrong with a classic? Let's get started! The synopsis, as always, provided by Goodreads.
The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under -- maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.
Pardon the redundancy. I first heard of the author from my poetry class.
(safe for those who haven't read this yet)
If I must start I will start with praises, because I'll be honest, this book didn't click much with me. First area of praise. I could tell by the rhythm of the story that she took care to include each word. If that doesn't scream poet then I don't know what does. One of my favorite quotes is "Easy reading is damn hard writing;" and I know Plath struggled just as much to accurately portray the descent down a path that she herself would have been suffering down, particularly since during the 1960s depression and suicidal thoughts were deemed more bizarre and rare among the public. It was a step closer to recognizing mental disorders with mass audiences--- not only the results of them but how people can fall into them. She showed you don't have to be a case of depression all your life to have it, that it can come suddenly and without good cause. There were many times I found her words to sink deep into my mind, to find a corner to snuggle in and to completely resonate with me.
I have learned something from this book though, which is when deciding what to read next I should never rely on the generalization of an experience to deem a book as interesting. For me. Of course just for me. For the most part, I found The Bell Jar too episodic for my taste. Another thing I've learned about myself, I'm quite superficial in what books interest me. Give me interesting characters. Give me complex plots. Give me colorful magical stories. However if a book only offers me mostly only glimpses in a person's life which are ideally included to fall under the umbrella of a theme, then I'm expecting that book to be autobiographical. I have read that this book is semi-autobiographical which makes me feel like I'm not criticizing the fictional character but the author. While characters can feel real at times, they are merely ideas and characterizations put together on paper. However who am I to talk about a story about a woman who shared emotions and thoughts and feelings to a stranger and can only say that I didn't like what she had to say because for me it was unrelatable. For me, Esther seemed to be only a shallow privileged woman who was consistently unhappy. On more than one occasion when I was reading I just thought she was an adult throwing a temper tantrum. Not outwardly. Not immaturely. But she had people who cared for her and looked out for her and yet she could only look within. She only could spot what was wrong with how they lived and how they went about her. It's easy to spot what's wrong. For most of her faults, at least that's something any reader can communicate with.
Now this is a very sensitive subject, particularly now, so I'm afraid anyone reading this will think me insensitive. I can't stress this enough. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, then I sympathize with them. I don't argue the illness, only the relatability of the character. It's hard to discern one from the other in cases like these and it's hard for me to describe! It's unfortunate that a tragic life isn't properly applicable to its reader.
In a way I find the synopsis a little misleading since she doesn't go down the insanity rabbit hole, but one of depression.
Also for a book this small, and it pains me to say this since I'm an avid fan of a large cast of characters, but this book was too overrun with characters. Most I can't remember without a memory or mnemonic as a reminder from when she met them. Granted, I read this book over a course of days and not in a single one.
The Bell Jar is like Mrs. Dalloway. A novel before it's time and significant in its time because it branched from the structure and standards of its time because it delved into the minds and made the reader think. I didn't intend to mention authors, both of who committed suicide due to their mental disorders, but because the latter was the first that came to mind that holds such high critical acclaim and for which, unfortunately, I fail to recognize why that is. I give this novel a low review because while it departs from generic literature in its subject matter, it fails to resonate with me. While it makes me think, it isn't a good think. It's a think process understanding why other people talk about this novel and not why I want to talk about it.
I give this book 2/5 stars
“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my eyes and all is born again.”
―Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Next To Read:
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
The book really only got interesting in the last 60 pages, since when the narrative a straight-forward approach with less steps backwards as the first 75% of the novel took. It just told the story from when her descent really plummeted and kept itself on that path without any divergence.
One of the few scenes I began to dislike Esther was unfortunately in the beginning. Discouraging thought since it is... the beginning. It was the scene after the party and Esther is grumbling about Doreen hooking up with Lenny, when she's just returned to her apartment and is whining because her friend was able to hook up with someone when she couldn't. Doreen followed Esther out of the cab and tried to include her at the bar and when he they went to the guy's apartment, trying to include her and not completely turn her back on her. However, when Doreen returned drunk, Esther just left her out in the hall. I mean, some friend! There's depression, and then there's indecency. Esther wasn't that drunk so she doesn't have that excuse. And it isn't like Doreen stole someone who was in Esther's life for a prolonged time. It was literally some random guy. Sorry that your ego was dampened down a little bit but it isn't enough to treat your friend like dirt.
And what about how she broods on Buddy? Repeatedly she calls Buddy hypocritical but as a writer, she should be well aware of all kinds of men. Sure he wasn't as "pure" as she would have liked, but at least he was honest. He didn't try to hide the fact he was a little more loose than her and at least he didn't criticize her for being her age and a virgin the way she criticized him for being coquettish. If anything, he was the only one outside of her family who tried to keep in touch with her. I connected more with him at the end (in one of the handful of scenes he has) when he visits Esther and asks her if the problem is him. Because all we have is Esther saying he's a hypocrite this and hypocrite that and to see this character come out and have feelings that people would normally feel when people they were close with attempting suicide. Out of all the characters, I feel he's the character that readers will connect with most. He's human. He's minor, but he's important to the story. The story isn't just about who's suffering, but about the people who have to survive after they've gone.
Another moment Esther absolutely got on my nerves was at the end just before Joan's funeral, Esther was told that she was one of Joan's best friends. Sure Esther didn't care for the girl, but it just shows how incapable and cold she was to others. All she ever did was complain that the right kind of men weren't interested in her or that the type of women she was surrounded by were shallow and only were interested in fancy parties and their place in society. At least they were honest about who they were. She viewed the world through a lens and remained at a distance. She only viewed how people lived and criticized them about how wrong they were. A moment that she shows the shallowness of her character is when she's comparing how students in a community college held higher credentials in their studies than she did at this private university she attended "on scholarship," because they knew subjects that she didn't. Amazing! That other institutions will have differing curriculum than her more reputable prestigious university. Sure it's a community college, and during the 60s they might not be as heuristic and diverse as her education should have been in her university, but this was just another element where I could only roll my eyes at her.
Until Next Time,