Book review: The Bell Jar

Today let us talk about a book that I have been raving about to everyone I know and their mother in the past few days. And it is a re-read too, which makes it a rarer thing, because most of my reread attempts end up badly for me. I would avoid rereading a loved book if I can help it for the same reason. And we are talking about The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. 

I would avoid rereading a loved book if I can help. But I took a chance with The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and read more to find out how that turned out! #TheBellJar #SylviaPlath #MentalIllness #Suicidal Click To Tweet

About the book

The bell jar

Book Name: The Bell Jar

Author: Sylvia Plath

Genre: Fiction – Classics, Literary, autobiography

Characters: Esther Greenwood, Mrs. Greenwood (her mother), Doreen, Jay Cee, Betsy, Constantin, Buddy Willard, Doctor Nolan, Mrs. Willard, Lenny Shepherd

Setting: Boston, Massachusetts, New York CityThe United States of America

The plot

The Bell Jar is a semi autobiographical account of the author and her struggle with depression and suicide. Set in New York City’s 1950s before the big sexual revolution and the birth control pills, Esther works at a glamorous newspaper that takes her to the happening parties and galas. But she is lost between her worlds while her mind is on the execution of the Rosenbergs and ‘being burned alive’.

When she learns that she failed to receive the scholarship that she had been planning for all along, she falls into a bout of depression. The Bell Jar talks about her perspective as a college educated woman in a sexist world and later her struggle with her existential despair.

Between her stays in different mental asylums and the consequent electro-shock therapies, she spends her time writing a novel and planning her suicide. Can this poignant and bleak tale have a not-so-sad ending? You might be surprised if you read The Bell Jar!

My initial thoughts

I should start with saying ‘yes this book is depressing’ and you have to be prepared for that before you pick the book. In spite of having read it earlier, I was not ready for it when it hit me. It is not a long book but sure needed a bit of more of time than normally something of this size would have. 

Esther’s disinterested narration felt so close to home that I had to stop more than once. She does not talk about her feelings at all but convincingly transfers her emotions to the reader. 

The Bell Jar is much more than the foreshadowing of the author’s ill fate, it is a social commentary. At some point, her insanity made more sense to me than the current socio-political scenario.

Despite that fifty plus years that have passed since the book first came out, we still are chastising women for talking about their sexuality, and stigmatized about mental health issues. The conundrum of having to choose between career and having a family is somehow still a huge issue for woman of all ages. May be we have not moved ahead at all. 

Things that worked for me

  • I loved the poetical narration that changed pace so often, yet kept me hooked to it.
  • Though the author does not introduce any character or even describe them, by the end of the book I felt like I knew each of them personally and I was trying to match them up with my real life counterparts.
  • If you have been afflicted by suicidal thoughts or depression, or just the patriarchal world, you will totally relate to The Bell Jar. 
  • The book is full of quotes that I loved and kept highlighting until the end.

Things that may not work for you

  • Being a semi-autobiography, it unsurprisingly is not plot oriented. So if you are looking for a fast paced story you might be disappointed.
  • The Bell Jar deals with suicidal attempts, self harm, sexual abuse, depression and ill treatment of mental health patients. If these are your triggers, you SHOULD avoid this one. 

Bottom-line

I loved this book in spite of the melancholic emptiness it left me after I finished reading it. Though I liked The bell jar when I read it the first time, I ended loving it more, understanding it better, and relating to the author deeper during my second visit.

Well, if that is not the mark of a great book I don’t know what is. Just read it.

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Let us chat

Have you read The Bell Jar? Have you read her poems? Do share your recommendations other books that deal with suicide attempts, please. Let us talk.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Plath is my favourite poet but I have yet to read her fiction work so I am going to read it soon hopefully. I will have to be in a good state of mind when it comes to picking it up. It just sounds so dark, depressing and almost haunting as we know it is semi-autobiographical!

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  2. This is a book I always meant to read, but I’ve still never got around to it. I feel like I’d have to be in the mood to tackle a book that deals with such weighty topics, but I’ve heard so many amazing things about it, and clearly, it’s incredibly famous for a reason.
    Hopefully, I’ll read this soon. Great review! 🙂
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  3. I have read some of her poems at college and they were super rough! I know about her story and her fatal final, and how much this woman struggled with life. I love that you add to your review the things that might trigger, but I love even more that this book is full of quotes! I haven’t read it but I have had it on the TBR for so long! I love classics for the in-depth analysis that you can conduct!

  4. I was introduced to Plath’s poetry a few years ago in uni and that’s where I fell in love with her work. I read the Bell Jar about 2-3 years ago and haven’t read it again since, but I want to reread it. I remember that it really resonated with me and I think it’s such an important book, especially because of the way it deals with existentialism. Really good review! I love how you broke it down.
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