Monday, January 2, 2012

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
288 pages, HarperCollins Publishers

"Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational — as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic."

I heard about The Bell Jar because I've read some of Sylvia Plath's poetry. Her poetry surely isn't the happiest thing to read, and neither is The Bell Jar. Before I read the book, I was aware that in 1963, the same year that the book was published, Sylvia Plath committed suicide. This novel is practically a distorted autobiography of Plath's life. Even so, when she first published the book she used Victoria Lucas as a pen name. The Bell Jar was a stunning novel, the only novel Plath ever wrote in her career as a writer.

As the story begins we are swung into Esther Greenwood's everyday life. She works for a magazine and is very talented and smart. She has friends and a man who she is trying to decide whether to be with, and Esther seems to have her life together. This changes quite dramatically later in the book.

The characters in the book were very real. They had flaws and feelings and are something any reader can relate to. But as the plot continues, we witness Esther slowly going a bit mad. I would not recommend this novel to anyone who dislikes depressing or dark books. Especially, not to anyone younger. Buddy Willard is a man Esther both loves and can't stand at the same time. I didn't particularly like Buddy Willard, just because of the fact that he always expected Esther to come running back to him in open arms, but he wasn't terrible. My favorite character out of the book was, of course, Esther. Her emotions were so raw and bare, I couldn't help but ache for her. How a person on the outside has it all, but on the inside is slowly deteriorating into nothing at all. At times I was struck with wonder by Esther's thoughts, because a lot of them made sense. Watching Esther lose her sanity was hard at times. As a reader, we are given the front row seat into Esther's most intimate, neurotic thoughts. Something that can be both scary and wonderful.

The writing in The Bell Jar is what truly makes this book beautiful. Plath has a way with words that kept me reading. If it wasn't the storyline or the characters, the writing took me away. Some of the lines were so simple and poetic, I just wanted to savor every little bit. Up until the last page, her writing did not waver and her style remained strong.

That being said, The Bell Jar is a beautiful novel depicting Sylvia's own downfall. It is awfully depressing and dark and I wouldn't say it made me feel like I was on top of the world or anything. But I did realize this before reading the book, and though the end of The Bell Jar embarks a hope for Esther, we all know what Sylvia's fate was and can only imagine what Esther's was as well. Even though this wasn't the happiest novel, it was definitely worth reading, especially if you're a fan of Sylvia Plath or poetry.

3 stars - I liked it. Worth borrowing.

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