Published by Harper Perennial (1963)
Paperback, 288 pages
Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.
Most of you know that I’m not a fan of classics because I hate historical. I would normally never pick up a classic by choice (except for 1984 or Fahrenheit 451), but my mind was in kind of a dark place when I picked this up so I was looking for something dark about mental health. I was kind of surprised that this one held my interest at all, honestly. But it did! Even though there was nothing happening, Plath’s prose somehow kept me going.
This wasn’t bad, but I just wanted more from this book. I wanted a life-changing, eye-opening story about a woman’s downward spiral into darkness, but I didn’t get it. In fact, this felt very vanilla to me. Yes, she is suicidal, and yes, she actually tries to kill herself. But I didn’t get the downward spiral that I was hoping for. In fact, there was hardly any emotion at all behind it. I never got the feeling of her being unhinged and losing it. The feeling of uselessness, of hopelessness. She seemed pretty normal, actually. She went from just there mentally to trying to kill herself. I didn’t really see the transition. Which is what I needed at the time I read this. I wanted to relate to the story, I wanted to read about what I was going through. The negative thoughts like a cancer eating away at you. The slow descent into darkness. The feeling of drowning in your own thoughts.
In the synopsis it even says “Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real” but honestly I never felt that intensity. I think maybe my expectations were just too high. (Or maybe I was in such a dark place at the time that Esther’s “breakdown” didn’t seem so bad.)
I think without those expectations I might have enjoyed this a bit more. Like I said, it wasn’t that bad. It held my interest well enough. It just wasn’t what I was looking for.
I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.
Writing style: 4/5
Overall rating: 2/5