When I was a teenager, the Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was my favourite book, so much so in fact that I must have read it about 20 times. Still time changes things and as I have been stuck in bed over the last week with the flu I thought I would download the book to my Kindle and see if I still thought the same ten years later. Plath was an incredible poet but what she is most known for is her descent into depression which finally ended in her suicide in 1963. This book is disturbingly close to her life and is almost an auto biography with the main character Esther echoing much of Plath’s life.
A Young Intern Spiralling Into Depression
The novel begins with Esther (Plath) working as an intern at one of the most prestigious magazine firms in New York City and trying to define her relationship with Buddy Willard who she is clearly too good for and is battling between what she wants and what Buddy and his parents want. Esther has won the internship along with 11 other girls who all made it to New York by entering a competition; Esther remarks quite a few times that the only thing she knows how to do is obtain scholarships. From the start, even though there are some funny stories to be told about the young girls’ time in New York we can see how detached Esther feels from the world. She wants to do so much with her life that choosing just “one fig” is pressuring her and it is not long before this healthy pressure has turned into full blown depression.
When Esther returns to her mother’s house after completing her time at the magazine she discovers that she was not awarded a place on the writing course she had applied for. She begins to think of things to do instead during the summer before college: complete her thesis, write a novel, learn German or shorthand, but it is not long before Esther finds all of these things to be pointless and this continues the manic roller coaster ride into depression which leads to Esther’s attempted suicides.
Within a week of returning home from New York Esther is unable to sleep and after seeing her doctor, a psychiatrist and having electric shock treatments she decides that there is no alternative except suicide. After a few ill fated attempts we see her planning and carrying out a final exit which ends up with her in a psychiatric hospital for a few months. This is where the rest of the story continues.
Why I Like This Book
Sylvia Plath has a way with darkness and the Bell Jar is full of amazing dark imagery from start to finish. I also love the way that we are completely in Esther’s mind from start to finish and her decline into insanity and depression is not purely morbid but also fascinating. Like when I was a teenager, I couldn’t put this book down and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this type of fiction. And when you’ve read this, read some of Plath’s poems… just as dark but truly beautiful! A true classic!
The Bell Jar is available on the US, UK and international Kindles and can also be found in paperback and hardback form.