“The Bell Jar” was a stunning glimpse inside the mind of a girl who attempts to commit suicide. This a book I have always heard a lot about, but it wasn’t until the publication of the biography of Sylvia Plath, “Pain, Parties, Work” debuting this summer (which was awful) that I decided to pick it up. “The Bell Jar” focused on a young protagonist in search of herself amidst the hustling backdrop of New York. The writing was fantastic and Esther’s voice was witty and mature enough to be enjoyed by an adult audience. I was caught off guard with how subtly Esther morphed from a vibrant single girl in the city to a suicidal and emotionally unstable person, a change that was almost imperceptible to the reader.
Esther’s voice kept me interested in the story and curious as to how her life would develop. This can only be attributed to Plath’s amazing writing, which brought me right into the plot with her witty and straight forward writing. I was amazed that Plath managed to make Esther’s failed suicide attempts humorous, like Esther’s commentary when she tried to drown herself but the water kept pushing her to the surface. The second half of the book, where Esther spent her time in mental institutions, was hard to read because of the focus on other emotionally disturbed patients and the insensitive treatment by the staff (think “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”). I cringed every time electroshock therapy was mentioned! It just reminded me how barbaric the mental health industry used to be. I felt like there should have been a little more to the ending, but I can appreciate Plath’s artist decision.
This book is often categorized as a young adult book, and I can understand that due to the young main character and the brief writing style. But the story and theme of self-awareness transcend age. Plath is a true American writer than can be enjoyed by anyone. This was an amazing read!