DISCLAIMER: I wrote this blog post in January so excuse the seasonal references. I wanted to share it anyway because I really love this book.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath has been on my ‘to read’ list for as long as I can remember. I finally got round to reading it after my friend Bella bought me it for Christmas as part of our flat’s Secret Santa; she remembered me saying I wanted to read it a few months earlier which was so thoughtful. I wanted to read it as soon as I could now I actually had my hands on my own copy and started it right at the beginning of January, making it the first book I’ve read in 2018.
It was actually a lot like what I was expecting but I guess that’s because I’ve read quite a bit about it during the years I’ve spent wanting to actually read it. I knew it’s themes included mental health and being a woman, which is the main reason why I wanted to read it as these are things that I find really interesting to read about and can often relate to portrayals of them in fiction.
What I didn’t know though is that the novel is partly set in New York. This is something that I really enjoyed about it. Depictions of New York in literature always seem quite vivid and intriguing for me, maybe because its one of the only American cities I’ve visited and a place that has always fascinated me. Esther’s experiences of New York reminded me a little of Patti Smith’s descriptions of being a woman in the city in her book ‘Just Kids’ and, that being a novel I love, this is definitely something that I found really enjoyable about the novel.
Plath’s writing style in this text is something that I also really enjoyed. Its really personal and as a reader, I really felt like I was inside Esther’s head which was important in ensuring I could understand why the events of her life were affecting her as they did. I also think the portrayal of Esther’s deteriorating mental health was realistic and truthful and allowing us to see things from Esther’s point of view might give the reader a better understanding of why and how people suffer with mental health issues.
I also often find that in literature that deals with mental health there is one big ,significant event that causes someone to have mental health problems. Whereas in The Bell Jar we see how different aspects of Esther’s life, each of them holding different levels of significance, affect her, rather than one big devastating event. Again, from my experience, I think this is a much more realistic depiction of mental health that allowed me to empathise with Esther a lot.
I don’t think I have much else to say about the novel apart from the fact that I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it had me captivated or place it up there with some of my favourite novels but I gave it 5 stars on GoodReads and honestly cannot find a fault in it. It’s an important novel with regards to it’s portrayals of mental health and women’s lives in the mid-twentieth century. But it’s also an intriguing read, with fairly easy language and regular chapters which actually encourages me to read a novel so much more frequently as it gives me places to start and stop which makes picking up a book much less intimidating.