Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Un-review: "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath

My favourite book as my first review? That was my plan, but it is impossible to pick a favourite book. I have read so many, and how can you compare "The Bell Jar" to "The End of Mr. Y" or "Northanger Abbey"? They are all perfect in their own way and make me feel like having a ten day nap every time I re-read them - in a good way. 

Today my favourite book is "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath, for so many reasons. We all know about the darkness in the authors life, so we know as we sit down to read the book that is 'all about depression', but when I first read the book as a 14 year old I had no pre-conceptions and read the book as if it were written just for me, which for all intents and purposes it was (and still is). Like the protagonist Esther Greenwood, I want to go everywhere and see everything but am gripped by a sense inertia and boredom at the world and everyone in it. I want to enjoy the whimsy in life and be surrounded by fantastic people, but find myself refusing to leave the house or answer the phone. Sylvia Plath and her original, authentic prose express my ramblings perfectly in a paragraph, one of the finest paragraphs you will ever read:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

I don't want anyone to think that either my feelings, or this quote, mean that the book is full of self-loathing or, whilst describing the grips of depression, is in and of itself a depressing read. If anything, as much as the reader does (or should) empathise greatly with the general feelings and behaviour of Esther Greenwood, I found myself knowing that in the end I would always find pleasure and happiness in the things Esther never could, and realising the difference between true, haunting depression and the 'normal' feelings of a young girl trying to find herself. The book feels real and raw, and paints a disturbing and honest picture of an era we now covet in many ways.

And, by the by, this book has my favourite literary line of all time, and I do mean my FAVOURITE line:

"The lawn was white with doctors" - perfection. Minimalist, authentic, powerful, evocative, clever - if only we had more from Sylvia Plath. 

Suggested are a woman between the ages of 13-30, you have feelings of anxiety and worry, you have a fear of the outside world, you have feelings of inertia, you want to know that everything will be OK in the end, you are a human being.


  1. Hi, thanks for following my blog. The Hay festival sounds great, I had no idea there were so many celebs there! I'm a Neil Gaiman fan too. Can't believe how prolific he is! Puts me to shame. Can't even write one book!

    1. Jac you are my first blog commenter, I feel like I should give you a prize or something! The Hay Festival is amazing, although uber wet and muddy most years - I am going to add a second and final wordy Hay Fest post today. Also, I could not be more of a Gaiman fan, he writes how I wish I could write. The bastard puts all all to shame.