The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Back in college, I had been a big fan of poetry and Plath's poetry in particular. It mirrored my own distorted perceptions of reality and my own clinical depression, but beyond that, it was honest, vibrant, and hinted at a kind of transcendence that only people who suffer under a huge weight can truly appreciate.
This novel, published under another name in 1963, was close to autobiographical, and beyond that, comes extremely close to matching The Catcher in the Rye and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in feel and in a few other ways, subject as well. Fun fact, this novel was published only a year after Kesey's. In my personal opinion, The Bell Jar is superior to Kesey's novel.
Because when I compare Sylvia Plath and the character she portrayed to just about anyone alive, she's NOT crazy. Depressed, certainly, and her circumstances, cultural expectations, and hypocrisies of our society did nothing to help her. Indeed, when she tried to help herself, she always found ways to conflate freedom or excitement with self-destruction, and there's little about this that we aren't all acutely aware of. Our own lives are full of them. It doesn't have to be suicide to mean something similar.
Plath's writing is gorgeous. I may not have particularly approved of many of her choices, but I can absolutely put myself in her (or her character's) shoes throughout the entire novel. The Bell Jar, like its namesake, is the feeling of being stifled like a hothouse flower, constrained, even crushed.
I'm sure a feminist argument can be made in support of this novel, but I don't really care. This speaks to everyone, male or female or any flavor of human at all. It manages to satirize even as it is brutally honest and revealing and heartbreaking.
It DOES do a very good job with all kinds of double-standards without making grand statements unless you consider deep honesty and truth a grand statement. And perhaps I do.
At all times as I was reading this, I felt very deeply about the book. I was shivering and horrified and I recognized the nearly blasé outlook on life, the weariness that mixed fully with the hope and the yearning even as all roads were slowly rejected, one realization at a time.
This is depression, after all. The gradual shutting down of options. The borders and boundaries creeping in. The claustrophobia of our lives.
It may not be everyone's definition, of course, but it is definitely a good one, and this novel is one of the very best that tackles it.
Warning. Both the character and the author work out their feelings of suicide. If this triggers you, I won't say you should avoid this work. Indeed, I think it's necessary to face all kinds of truth.
Including the fact that Sylvia Plath committed suicide when she was only 31.
On that note, some Fight Club:
"You're not dying."
"In the Tibetan philosophy, Sylvia Plath sense of the word,"
"I know we're all-- we're all dying, all right?"
"But you're not dying the way Chloe back there is dying."
Indeed. Context and perspective are everything.
View all my reviews