The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman’s mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly-written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman’s descent into insanity.
I chose to read this book because it is on the Rory Gilmore Reading List. I wasn’t sure what to expect as this is a hard subject to sensitively write about. However, I think Sylvia Plath did a super job. Of course, that might be because she did really commit suicide.
The book is about Esther, a girl who moves to New York to work as a junior editor at a magazine. She experiences all sorts in New York, from the realisation that not all men are nice, to extreme food poisoning, by someone set on killing the magazine staff. Her downward spiral starts here, but gets worse when she moves home and can’t get a job. She is stuck at home, sharing a bedroom with her always-pleasant mother. It is here that Esther has her breakdown, and tries to kill herself. The result is her ending up in hospital, where she experiences shock-therapy and has to cope with the death of people she knows.
This book is enjoyable – if that is the right word. It is unsettling, and will haunt me for a long time I think. There are some images which will be hard to erase, but that does not spoil the book. It is not an easy topic to read but it is well written and I found myself wanting to keep reading more, to find out what happened.
Esther was a character I found myself liking, and I didn’t like watching her slip down the road of depression and suicide. I really wanted her to be OK. There were aspects of her situation I found myself relating to, and a few years ago I would not have been able to read this book. I wasn’t bothered by the other characters – it was all about Esther and what happened to her for me.
This is a very sensitive issue and I would approach this book with caution if mental health issues are close to you. That said, in my current mindset I enjoyed this book.