Books, Fiction, Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell JarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Last summer, I got fascinated with Sylvia Plath. I read her poems, I watched the movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow who portrayed Sylvia Plath in the movie, which left me unsatisfied with my fascination for the poet. Her words to me were so soothing that, for a month I read nothing else but her poems. This never happened with me before, as I am able to read on an average at least a book a week. But Plath’s writing got hold of me more and I sank deep down in to the world her words wove around me.
Thus, after reading many of her poems, and I found only two books written by her: The Bell Jar and The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (which is a non-fictional work). I read both in that order.

On reading The Bell Jar, her words left me sort of sad soul drain that you feel after you read something both really profound and depressing. Though I was not much affected by much of the story but it did made me wonder, that how a person can write so profoundly in a flow, either he must be suffering from utter depression or his writing skills are extremely accomplished. But I believe only halfheartedly on the latter. I truly believe in the story that if a write writes, no matter how accomplished he is in his skills, somewhere in his words, between the lines, is his own experience of the consequences he had faced previously.

Plath’s prose is interesting and fractured. The language is not totally outdated and is still entirely approachable to the average reader with enough depth behind the words to satisfy the staunchest literary critic.

The story is about Esther Greenwood a 21-year girl from Boston who hates her mother. She wins a summer internship at a popular magazine in New York. Her mother sends her a write-up on how she can protect her virginity. The story of Esther continues when she moves to New York to work as an intern at the magazine, but soon falls into a deep depression. The first half of the narrative describes Esther’s life in the city, while the latter part tells of her experiences with psychiatrists and mental institutions.

The connection I made on reading the first half with Esther is interrupted as Plath stops describing the backdrop to the scenes, stops analyzing, stops telling us how Esther feels. I was almost disappointed with the second half because I wanted to feel the madness in Esther, but it wasn’t crazy, it was depression, cold, languid, mind-numbing depression. This is the point where I guess, Plath’s own experiences inspired her writing, as she tries to manage and capture her character but fumbles down. The later half of the book shows some signs of exhaustiveness that she might have felt on the course of writing, and pressure of managing two small children alone in misery.

The Bell Jar was Plath’s only novel, semi-autobiographical and completed shortly before she committed suicide. It was published under a pseudonym just before she died, in February, 1963.

Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.
― Sylvia Plath


19 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath”

  1. I think she’s an extraordinary writer. I went to an event at the Royal Festival Hall about a year ago when they got a group of actors to read out all the poems of Ariel one after the other. It was mind blowing!


  2. This was a great review! Sylvia Plath’s story is intriguing, and I look forward to reading The Bell Jar be it depressing – her words have such an impact, and are heralded by literary critics, so I’m thinking that this will be a very good read.


  3. The poems of Sylvia Plath seems to hold me in a grip now. I had to stop reading her journals for a while, just to be able to get through my day. I am still not through with them. This book is definitely on my to-read list 🙂
    She had far more possibilities than she managed to realize because her life was cut too short. :/


  4. I didn’t know she wrote The Bell Jar under a pseudonym. I’ve read some of her poems from Ariel for a literature course I took in my first year as an undergrad. During the lecture, my professor got choked up with emotion as he described the circumstances of her suicide.


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