Saturday, 29 July 2017

REVIEW: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

As a self-confessed book addict, I have failed myself by not reading The Bell Jar until now. At 22-years-old, I am disastrously late to the all-consuming world of Sylvia Plath. But, now that I have arrived, I am ready to unpack my bags and never leave.

I first became aware of Plath when I was 17-years-old and studying for my English Literature A-level. Whilst Plath was never on the curriculum, my professor often educated us on her work. She was obsessed with Plath. However, being young and a bit reckless, I neglected to investigate the works of Sylvia Plath. Foolish girl. 

Now, a little older, but no less wiser, I decided it was time to invest in Sylvia Plath. There was nowhere else to start than with The Bell Jar, Plath's only novel before her tragic death by suicide. 

I was instantly captivated by the book, which explores the life of Esther Greenwood. Set in the 1950s, The Bell Jar focusses on Esther's rather dark and disturbing world which is commanded by her mental health. Each new page pushes you, as the reader, deeper into a bleak abyss of self-turmoil. 

For me, I found it particularly tormenting to my rationale, for Esther aspires to be a writer. She battles with the constant belief that she isn't good enough and feels suffocated by the bell jar as it looms over her. This concept resonates with high-achievers, who place a huge amount of pressure on themselves to be successful. It is this relatability that makes The Bell Jar so poignant and unsettling. 

As Esther's mental state deteriorates, she is subjected to barbaric treatments, that do not exist today. This element of the story is particularly difficult on the reader, as in modern times, we are aware of the horrors of 20th-century treatment for mental illness and are even more aware that electric shock therapy does little to improve the patient's situation.

The novel is a turbulent whirlwind of emotion, that speaks to most young girls on a personal level for it describes the battle of growing up and the insecurities teenage girls succumb to. It highlights the plight of young girls all across the globe and then takes it to the next level, with Esther attempting to take her own life, unsuccessfully.

Alarmingly, the book is thought to be somewhat biographical. It bears striking similarities to Plath's real life connections and experiences. This insight into Plath's mindset acts to chillingly foreshadow her real life, in parts. Although, tragically, Plath wouldn't survive her suicide attempt, dying in 1963, a month after the book's release. 

I couldn't stop myself from being consumed by The Bell Jar. Every page seemed to reveal something new to me about myself. Whilst also making me flinch with low-level anxiety. It felt like reading someone's diary, or maybe even my own diary (minus the suicidal thoughts) and this connected me to The Bell Jar in a deep way. I have always been completely immersed within books to the point where I feel that I exist within them, however, they are usually fantasy novels (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.), but Sylvia Plath transported me to a new view. Thus, cementing The Bell Jar as one of my all time favourite books.

Gwyneth Paltrow in the film adaptation of The Bell Jar

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