The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell JarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know if I enjoyed this book or not. The trouble I have with it is, I think, that a friend of mine is working on a novella that concerns depression, and does a much better job than The Bell Jar of describing what it feels like to be in that condition. (We don’t get a name for the condition of Esther, the protagonist – which is forgivable given that psychiatric treatment in the 1960s was one step away from butchery).

The other thing is, I didn’t see Esther’s insanity coming. One moment, she was in New York, suffering the same uncertainty about the future that is common to many twenty-year-olds. The next, she’s back at home and goes almost instantaneously from that angst to being almost catatonic, and suicidal. I know that sometimes in life we look for reasons where there are none, and maybe Esther’s experience is based on the author’s own (Sylvia Plath suicided in her early thirties), but in fiction we need reasons, or at least need to be told why there are no reasons, and The Bell Jar does neither.

Having said that, the writing is lively and the pace matches the action. There are some funny scenes and the book never falls into self-pity or apologism. I didn’t much like Esther, but for someone as someone as unapproachable as her, I felt I got to know her as well I could. I’d have liked to have known what happened to her wild friend, Dorothy, who fades out of the book; Esther’s first psychiatrist is brilliantly presented as a grade-A ass, and the relationship between mother and daughter is a master of understatement.

All in all then, I can’t say I’d recommend a reader to go out and buy The Bell Jar, but I would recommend reading it should it fall into your hands.

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