My first thought when I hear The Bell Jar is of teenagers wanting to seem deep and claiming it as their favorite book. For years, I only knew Sylvia Plath's most famous work as that depressing novel that was written by the woman that killed herself. Looking back, that is a horrible thing to think and I'm a little embarrassed by the thought but honestly, that's what was in my head.
I bought my own copy during the strange grave-robbing-esque experience that was going to Borders during its last two weeks. I got my hands on a lot of nice copies of classic books and The Bell Jar was no exception. I'd always kind of wanted to read it and here was my chance.
I didn't actually sit down to read it until this Christmas Break, when I decided to read a bunch of "classic novels" I had on my bookshelf but had never actually taken the time to get through. After tackling 1984 (which I'm sure I'll write on at some point), I picked up The Bell Jar.
The Bell Jar was nothing that I expected. Instead of sad poetry about some girl cutting herself (I really had no idea what I was getting into), here was a well-written and surprisingly funny tale of a girl in the big city for the first time, trying to find her way through an internship and some pretty bizarre friends. Despite the obvious sixties setting, she was very relatable and the kind of girl that I thought I might have been friends with.
The novel tells the tale of Esther Greenwood, a young girl who earns a summer internship in New York. We meet her in the middle of it, going to parties, hanging out with girls she both likes and doesn't like and trying to come to terms with her own future. After she makes it back home and discovers some unhappy news, she finds herself spiraling out of control into a depression she can't see a way out of.
Perhaps one of the reasons this book is so good is that it's semi-autobiographical. Almost all of the events happened to Plath in much the same way, with perhaps only small details changed. Although it's sad to think of all of this happening in truth, it also creates a relationship between reader and author/character that is stronger than most.
Plath's writing style is amazing, as well. I'm not one to go on and on about that kind of thing but I just couldn't get over it while reading. There is one section where most of the young girls get food poisoning from a lunch outing. Not to sound impolite but the way Plath describes the feeling of having food poisoning made me read the section out loud to my mother in the car, the whole time exclaiming "Isn't this just brilliant?" As someone who has had severe food poisoning, I was so impressed by how exactly she got everything down to the last detail. It was wonderful (and a bit gross).
The Bell Jar is a great book and, while not the most light-hearted thing in existence, not a manual for emo children, either. There is great wit, great style and just an overall sense of what being a young girl with a passion for writing was like in the fifties and sixties. I enjoyed it and recommend it wholeheartedly.