The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath
1963 / 234 pages
Rating – 9
The Bell Jar is a moderately short novel. It’s based on Plath’s experiences as a student in New York when she was about 20 or so (1953) . She wrote the book about 9 years later and it was published shortly after her death in 1963 at age 31. During her lifetime she was known for her poetry but only one full collection had been published. (Now there are several volumes but I suspect many of the same poems are used.)
She fought clinical depression to the point of suicide all her brief adult life. Her father before her and later her son both committed suicide and she attempted it several times before she succeeded.
I was kind of put off to reading the novel because of the hype surrounding it way back then and yet I was drawn to it in a way because it is a classic. The group chose it so I got the nudge I needed. The book is better than I expected.
The first half of the book was pretty boring – Esther M, a junior in college goes to New York to work as an intern in publishing. She experiences new things. Her boyfriend has sex with someone else and she wants to “catch up.” When the rejection notice for the writing school is received Esther goes into a tailspin and the book picks up dramatically as the story follows her through her descent into depression.
It was also at about halfway that the writing seemed to pick up, to develop an urgency and a poignancy which the beginning lacked. After this I really didn’t care if it was fiction or not – it felt totally honest.