REVIEWED BY LAHARI
“I was supposed to be having the time of my life”, reads the back cover of the 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s timeless classic and only novel, The Bell Jar. The novel, a semi autobiography, is based on a period of Plath’s disturbingly short life which was predominated by severe depressive episodes.
The story, narrated in first person, revolves around Plath’s alter ego, Esther Greenwood who is a college student. Witty, cynical and observant, Esther is a girl who has always been a star student academically. During her time in New York in which she is interning at a famous magazine, she feels her depression take hold of her and make her think like a person that her competitive younger self did not know. Plath’s style of portraying topics that are still sensitive and often misunderstood in today’s world, such as depression and suicide is really worth note. Especially if we consider the fact that it was written more than decades ago, when mental illnesses had not been understood completely by medical professionals, which often lead to extreme, unnecessary and sometimes brutal treatment of the mentally ill.
There is a huge collection of unforgettable quotes in the book that really strike a chord within you.
The quote, “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream ” pretty much sums up the way she looks at the world, or rather the world appears to her. What the author means here is that to a depressed person, who is stuck inside a metaphorical bell jar, the world appears distorted and meaningless as one would see if seen through the curved glass of such a jar.
Another goose hair inducing line from the book is probably ““The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence“
I, personally, am of the opinion that what makes Esther so lovable regardless of your views matching with hers, is how realistic the character is. She does not seem like the perfect heroine who has everything sorted. She is unsure, confused, unreliable and wavering most of the time, like most of us.
The author also brings out other characters such as Esther’s boyfriend Buddy Willard, her mother and many others in a profound and impacting way. However, the reader might find it hard to form impartial opinions on them since we have no source to rely upon for information other than Esther herself. For example, Buddy comes off as a selfish, arrogant guy who constantly bugs you with the rather stupid things he says, and in my opinion, it is because the feelings the narrator holds for him right at the point where he is introduced are quite clear. And Plath cynically analysing and criticizing her own world through Esther, with her inimitable style of writing makes the novel all the more enjoyable.
This novel was originally published shortly before her tragic death, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, because Plath wasn’t too sure about the literary value it carried. However, it is a book that makes you stop and think, and question a lot of things, with its appealing narration that could be disturbing sometimes, all the more if the topics the book addresses are close to your heart.
Though not a conventional coming of age novel, I would totally recommend this book to anybody who loves books with substance and likes to contemplate the meaning of life through literature.
ARE YOU SUPER INTERESTED IN THIS BOOK NOW? WE DON’T BLAME YOU. IT DEFINITELY SOUNDS AMAZING.
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by Sylvia Plath [Paperback]
by Sylvia Plath [Kindle]
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lahari Kalakanda is an aspiring writer, aged 18, currently residing in the city of Bangalore. She admires a nice sense of humour and hopes that she’ll attain it someday too. She loves nature and to travel. Her best travelling experience so far has been on the road which took her away from Medicine and dropped her off in an Arts college.