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632009151626_sylvia plath 01.jpg

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

By TSF | Books | December 2, 2009 |

By TSF | Books | December 2, 2009 |

Esther Greenwood arrives in New York City to work as an intern for a prominent magazine. Despite this dream opportunity she finds herself increasingly disinterested in the world around her. Alienated from her friends, repelled by her once seemingly perfect lover, she returns to her native Boston where she spirals further into depression. It is there that she is encouraged to seek medical help. Electroshock therapy, attempts at suicide, and institutionalization follow.

Originally published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas, this semi-autobiographical novel was published a month before Sylvia Plath committed suicide. This was the first of her works that I read. I was initially struck by how humorous I found the opening chapters. Plath possessed a delightful wit and a searing cynicism. Moreover, she was a brilliant writer. I came across this title quite by accident. I picked it off of a friend’s book shelf and was immediately drawn in by its opening pages.

I have read many accounts of both mental illness and the experience of such institutions. I have been impressed by few. Having experienced both firsthand, I usually derive little enjoyment from such work. Nonetheless The Bell Jar stands high and above the rest. It is an uncompromising novel that never falls victim to either sentimentality or self-importance.

Many details stood out for me. I found myself uncomfortably relating to many of the experiences and characters that the protagonist comes across. From the interest in texts of abnormal psychology, the weight gain caused by insulin injections, and the heartbreaking guilt of parents convinced they are to blame for the unfortunate outcome of their child’s circumstance. I recognized myself in Esther’s many seemingly irrational actions; her habit of lying to strangers for no particular purpose, her long walks to random destinations, and even her flirtation with the Catholic faith. But it was her obsession with methods of suicide that stood out for me the most.

This is difficult for me. I am not sure what or how much to write. This book resonated with me deeply. It has not given me any sort of comfort or resolution. But it has given me something.

The neighbourhood is always loud. People are shouting outside. Windows are smashed and the broken glass rains onto the pavement. Up stairs, they scream and shout. I sunk into this book, far from it all. As I read to the last page I heard a sound from upstairs. It was The Beatles’ song “Across the Universe.” The soothing melodies played out as my eyes fell upon the last words of this beautiful novel. The song ended. And the world sat in silence.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of TSF’s reviews, please check his blog, TSF Is a Mess.