So last night was Book Group which I shall report back on in more detail in a blog below this one later. ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath was the book up for discussion, a book that I have always been intrigued in reading but haven’t ever picked up. Bizarrely I now have two copies as though I had a copy of Faber’s re-issue I then saw a fabulous psychedelic 60’s copy and grabbed it as it looked so special. Enough of the outside though, what did I think of what the delightful cover’s contained?
‘The Bell Jar’ was and is Sylvia Plath’s one and only novel. Published in 1963 a few months before she committed suicide though no one actually knows when she wrote it. This is the tale of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who seems to have it all, a debutant in New York taken on as an intern into the world of fashion media from the American country side and how this leads to some sort of breakdown.
The book is definitely one of two halves. The first in the busy and hectic setting of 1950’s New York where pretty much whatever Esther could want she is able to get. Her life evolves around freebies, lunches (one ending in a hilarious taxi ride and bathroom encounter of debutant food poisoning and its effects), parties and meeting strange and fascinating men. You would think this would be every young woman’s dream and indeed Esther once did though by the time we meet her it’s clear the shine has worn off. Everything is routine and alongside Doreen she starts to rebel, when this doesn’t work she simply counts down the days till she can be home writing and waiting for her scholarship to start.
The second part of the book is set ‘back home’ after the city life Esther finds herself more unhappy and once she is told (by her hopeless mother) that she no longer has a scholarship her dreams of writing are shattered and from this point on we watch as Esther methodically plans killing herself.
I had always thought that ‘The Bell Jar’ was an oppressive novel which may by the end leave you as depressed as the narrator. I didn’t find it so. Yes it’s incredibly dark, there is no mistaking that, but some of it is incredibly witty. I had no idea there would be so much humour in this book. Though I wouldn’t want her as a friend I loved Esther’s voice. Her opinions on everything, though she only ever has them internally, are incredibly observant and dry. I actually laughed out loud when she see’s her ‘forced’ beau naked and lets us know just what she thinks of that sight. One minute she is magnificently manipulative and cunning, the next she is naïve hopeless and childlike and always strangely likeable and irritating in one.
Is it autobiographical? I don’t think we will ever know how can we? I do in a way wish there was more of Plath’s fiction as I would definitely be an avid reader. I must admit as I am not the biggest fan of poetry I have never read her poems but I am definitely going to give them a go.
I am really pleased to have read it finally, so pleased that both editions are now firmly ensconced on my bookshelves. I think its one of those books where if you haven’t read it then ‘you always mean to read it’, do you know what I mean? So what about all of you out there, what do you think of ‘The Bell Jar’?