Wednesday, 7 April 2010
The Bell Jar
This is a great work of literary genius. It is insightful, tragic and thoroughly engrossing. The story is poignant, meaningful and hasn't aged a day from when it was first published in 1963. It is even more heartbreaking when you realise how, in many ways, it mirrors the tragic life of it's author, Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide a month after 'The Bell Jar' was published.
I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the book at first. It follows the life of a seemingly ordinary young woman named Esther who works for a successful magazine in New York City. She attends lavish parties, wears extravagant dresses, meets celebrities and never has to pay for a meal and yet, despite all this, Esther is deeply unhappy. What Esther doesn't realise is that she is at the beginning of a nervous breakdown.
In the 1960s knowledge of mental illness among the general population was poor so no-one close to Esther seems to pick up any of the signs. As the story progresses Esther continues her slow decent into the realms of mental illness eventually resulting in Esther going completely off the rails. Her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, self-destructive and unpredictable. She says and does strange things and begins to display extreme signs of paranoia and even aggression (which is unlike her). Her ineffectual mother doesn't understand what is happening to Esther and does little to help.
One of the most heart wrenching moments in the book is when Esther starts methodically considering all the many different ways she could end her life. Weighing up the pros and cons in such an unemotional, detached and calculated way it made my blood run cold. Esther finally attempts suicide leading her life off in a completely different direction.
As I read the book I found myself empathising with Esther's character a great deal. I really wanted somebody to help her, I didn't care who. In fact I really wanted to help her myself. I wanted to reach out and save her from herself. Each time someone failed to help her I cried out (internally) in exasperation. That's how powerful this book is; I have never experienced anything like it before.
'The Bell Jar' resonates very deeply with me on a personal level too. I can appreciate (to a lesser degree) what Esther is going through. I find the best kinds of literature most deserving of praise are always those that people can personally relate to.
The Bell Jar made me cry. This has happened to me before with films but never with a book. It's the first time I've fully realised what a profound effect literature can have on a human being. I cannot recommend The Bell Jar highly enough.