The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath was the classic book that we picked out to read for book club this round of books. I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this book, since Sylvia Plath’s reputation is. . . well . . . that she was fiercely talented but depressed and committed suicide. On the other hand, I was really interested in this book since I did my high school senior paper on one of her poems and loved her writing style. I was curious how her writing style would translate into a novel style book that was loosely based on her own life.
I was pleasantly surprised at how readable I found the book. I felt a little bit like I was reading a female version of The Catcher in the Rye but it was actually enjoyable (maybe because the main character was easier to relate to, being female and all)!
The story starts with a young Ester Greenewood, who is enjoying an internship at a prestigious magazine in New York because of a essay contest that she won. She is a successful academic, poised, a fantastic writer, and has a great boyfriend, Buddy. During the course of her stay, something begins to unravel – she no longer sees the path for her life clearly, as her life had been tied up in her academic achievements. She returns home to disappointing news that she has not been admitted to a class she wanted to attend and struggles with her feelings towards the stereotypical female options laid before her: mother, stenographer, wife, etc. She quickly spirals into a depression. The rest of the book chronicles her struggle with depression, suicide attempts, journey to several different medical centers and what seems to be her subsequent recovery spurred by several big life changing events. We never fully know if she beat the bell jar, because although she feels it lift by the end of the book, she mentions how she doesn’t know if the bell jar would descend on her again to begin it’s slow suffocation all over again.
There was a sense of resolution at the end of the book even though the book didn’t fully resolve in plot (for example, we don’t know what happened with her and Buddy, whether or not she was discharged from the hospital, or what she went on to do with her life) but somehow, that was ok with me. It fit the mood and intention of the book. I really enjoyed the blunt honesty of the character and the unashamed look at depression that it offered. It really does feel like you get a little peak of what what going on in Plath’s head as she struggled with depression in her own life. 7.5/10