Thursday, 23 June 2011

Book Review : The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Yes, it would seem rather odd to suddenly have a book review on this blog. E.L gave me her blessings, saying that I could, I quote, "Put anything you want" on the blog and so I shall.

I have always been a bit of a geek and I love literature. A lot of people think its stuffy, boring and really quite irrelevant but I say nay. Literature teaches you the essentials of life, to analyse character, text, subtext, social conventions, perversions, the norm and subversion. Literature captures the humanity and beauty of one's culture, the quips and quirks. One word can say so much and yet saying plenty can mean nothing at all.

I can wax lyrical all day on the wonders and benefits of Literature and the Arts but I will be digressing. In another life, I would have done Literature in University and then move on to be a  Lit teacher, write poetry and possibly be suckered into a strange world of Academia that would have me floating in a bubble of flowing narrative.

I digress. So I finally read the one and ONLY novel by Sylvia Plath. It was reported that she had committed suicide one month after the publishing of this book under a different moniker. Which to me doesn't implicate that the writing of the book drove to the eventual suicide but rather, the writing of the book probably served as a catharsis for her.

 You see, she was a bit of a drama queen and CONSTANTLY tried to off herself. It was reported that it was an ATTEMPT but they got to her too late and hence her attempt became a finality.

The reason why the trivia is important to the book is because the book serves as a semi -autobiography. Plath herself served an internship at a fashion magazine and it was said that the names and details were changed but essentially  it was quite true to her life. She did go into an asylum and was treated for her illness.

In books such as these, the plot really is secondary. It is the way it is written that draws the reader. But nonetheless, it is not a book review without a synopsis and no one really wants to read my practical criticism on the text so here goes. :)

The Bell Jar is basically about Esther Greenwood, straight A student and has a promising and bright future. The novel kicks off with her in New York city on an internship with a very prestigious fashion magazine. From there begins her depression. First it starts slowly, from just wanting to cry for no reason to feeling this strange sense of idleness and finally, it manifests itself and puts her on a path of self destruction.

The bulk of the story happens after the internship where her mother tells her she didn't get the summer course in another university.  From there, things start to spiral downward. She first starts to try and find things to do, like write a novel, take up short hand but the depression starts to eat her and weigh her down.

On hindsight, the book is darkly funny as her attempts to kill herself and her observations as how her body betrays her intentions, such as "floating up'" while she tries to drown herself are comical but yet subtly so and on some level, extremely sad. One cannot help but sympathize with her.

Her observations in the asylum and her treatments reveal to us a world of shock treatments and an alternate reality that's disconcerting. The developments that follow leaves one curious and you start to live vicariously through her. As she wonders when will that "Bell Jar" descend upon her, you too start to feel the anxiety, that fear that perhaps the Bell Jar will descend upon you and trap you in that insipid stale scent of yourself.

So you ask yourself, does she get better? Will she leave the asylum?

 I won't spoil the ending but lets just say you are left hanging.

What is wonderful about the book is that the narrative is straightforward, easy to comprehend yet profoundly deep and surprisingly, not as  depressing as everyone claims it to be.Yes, Plath does suck you into Esther's world and you see the world through Esther Greenwood's eyes and cannot help but agree with her madness and her perceptions.

 Not a good read if you are already feeling down in the doldrums, but definitely a read if you are in the mood for some good literature.


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