- Sylvia Plath.
Esther Greenwood's always been a little...quirky. A bright young thing, the aspiring journalist has landed herself an internship with 'Ladies' Day' magazine in New York with several other girls when the events occurring around her lead her to start questioning the life she's always been told she wants, and, as her opinions of those she's always surrounded herself with start to unravel, so does her sanity. This is Esther's story, through a downward spiral of self-destruction. Will she ever make it out of the bell jar, the self-contained unit of her own mental illness, or will she be forced to live apart from the rest of the world for the remainder of her young life?
'The Bell Jar' has been one of my favourite books since I was thirteen, a fact that I often find myself defending amongst my fellow bookworms; having reached somewhat of a cult status, over the past 50 years since its first publication, it seems to divide the literary world, a little.
Don't get me wrong, it's far from a light-hearted read (but then, I can't think of much of Plath's work that could be described in such a way), but somehow, the story of Esther, whilst extreme in many ways, is one that is oddly relatable. Plath manages to create a character who, whilst being completely and utterly in the grip of mental illness, is perfectly logical, calm, calculated - one that, as a young woman in a postmodern world, it is all too easy to identify with. Esther feels so much like an 'average girl', questioning her self, her thoughts, her dreams, as much as I think anyone of a similar age would be, and yet, through a sometimes-harrowing narrative, we're made to see her descent into chaos, both internal and external, to see her self-destruction from the inside-out.
I think that's why there's so much division between those who love 'The Bell Jar', and those who hate it; although brilliantly written, thoughtful, with what comes across as an almost satirical observation on society - which somehow, still seems relevant as it celebrates a 50th anniversary of publication - it is, really, an uncomfortable book to read, in that it makes you question your own thoughts, feelings, dreams, every bit as much as Esther questions hers.
Personally, I think that's something pretty spectacular.
This review was written by regular reviewer Francesca, get to know her here.
Photo © Francesca Sophia.