My Goodreads rating – 5 out of 5 stars
The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel, and was published in 1963, the same year that Plath died. Often considered a semi-biographical novel, it follows the story of Esther Greenwood; a young woman who is “supposed to be having the time of (her) life”. She’s living in New York, and is working at a fashion magazine. But we soon realise that Esther is losing her sense of reality; that a bell jar has fallen over her. We follow Esther’s mental breakdown, her treatment and her recovery.
Before I get into my review, I just want to say that this book may contain triggers for depression, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
This was a re-read for me. I read it last summer, and I enjoyed it then, but reading it now was a completely different experience. I have never been diagnosed with depression, or any mental illness, and I am in no way self-diagnosing. But the first half of this book honestly felt like reading about my own life.
This time last year, I was about to receive my A-Level results, and I did really well. I got the grades I needed for my first choice uni, and in September I started studying Psychology at the University of Exeter. On paper my life was going to plan. I was at a Russel Group university studying for my degree, and my family were overjoyed. As Esther puts it, “I was supposed to be having the time of my life”, but like Esther I was not. I hated it. I couldn’t focus on my work, I couldn’t sleep, and I had no interest in anything. And I felt so guilty about it, I felt like I was the only one not enjoying uni. But when I came home for the Christmas holidays, I decided to drop out, and it was the best thing I ever did for myself.
So reading when reading The Bell Jar this time around, I completely related to Esther’s thoughts and feelings. I think this will definitely be a book that stays with me.
Being able to identify with the book isn’t really what makes it a 5 star read for me, though. I loved Plath’s writing, much more than I did when I first read the book. It’s so sad that she died so young, and I’m sure she would have written more amazing novels. I know that Plath did, however, write a lot of poetry, and I am hoping to read some more of her work very soon.
Please feel free to leave any recommendations of where to start with Plath’s poetry in the comments, and, if you have read it, let me know your thoughts on The Bell Jar.