Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (3/5)[re-read]

The back says: Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, boyfriend, looks, career - and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Highly readable, witty and disturbing, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's only novel and was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. What it has to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women, is as sharply relevant today as it has always been.
I say: This is my second time reading The Bell Jar, mostly because when I was having a discussion about it with a friend I started doubting my feelings about it. I was saying how underwhelmed I had been by it; comparing it, of course, to her poetry, but my friend was being adamant that it was a great novel.

So I read it again.

And I was underwhelmed – again.

Or should that be ‘still’?

In all honesty and fairness, I don’t really have any criticism of this novel, other than the fact that it just leaves me indifferent. Although I understand and recognise its importance, it fails to leave an impact. There is nothing wrong with the characters – they all seem real enough – and I sort of find Esther endearing and really feel for her through her struggle with depression. Plath, having experienced most of what Esther goes through, does a great job of describing the slow decline, the rock bottom and ultimately the slow rise back to normalcy.

It’s all very neatly packaged – and I think that is what’s bothering me.

I love Plath’s poetry, and to go from that to reading the prose in The Bell Jar, I feel cheated (for lack of a better word). I’m used to strong emotions, crafty metaphors, magical phrasing, and there is just nothing of that here. I’ve always maintained that, in my experience, great poets write bad not as good novels and vice versa, so it kind of feels nice to have that reaffirmed the second time around.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad novel, and I would recommend everyone to read it; if not for the prose, then at least for the subject matter at hand. It’s just that when you’re used to Plath’s poetry, this is nowhere near as genius.


  1. I started this about two months ago on my phone as I forgot to lift my book and had nothing to read one lunch time. I felt a little overwhelmed too. Nothing really stood out for me and after everyone raving about it I expected to be blown away. Haven't felt the need to finish it yet but I will as I didn't hate it either.

    1. Yeah, it takes a while for anything of importance to happen, and then when it does, it all happens so quickly. It gets better towards the end, and I would urge you to finish it when you find the time and care. I know my review is a bit negative, but it just leaves me a bit meh.

    2. I will finish it eventually. I'll probably request it at the library as I might get along better with it in book format (really hate reading the kindle and iPad).

    3. I agree. I prefer reading books as well and even though I don't mind my e-reader, I've found that I use it less and less. And it's easier to finish physical books as well, cos they stare at you.