Published: January 1963
Source: Charity Shop
Goodreads Average Rating: 3.97
My Rating: 67% (3 Stars)
I recently read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and I was really excited/nervous about starting this book. Excited because I have heard a lot about Sylvia Plath before and have actually read and enjoyed a couple of her poems, so I was very interested in reading her only novel. Nervous because I was afraid that a lot of it would blow right over my head and I would miss a lot of important details that I would’ve otherwise recognised had I been reading and analysing it in a classroom. Unfortunately I do feel like that happened.
This book tells the story of Esther, a girl who dreams of being a poet and has a lot of things going for her. She graduates college, gets invited to New York for a trip that could boost start her career. She has men interested in her and supportive friends, but she is severely depressed. She finds the ordinary day to day life more difficult than others, she is overwhelmed by the mere thought of the future and underwhelmed by many of its prospects. Her depression soon turns into thoughts of suicide.
It being a book about mental illness, it was always going to be a difficult read. There were no zombies or vampires out to kill anyone, there were no guns aimed at the opposite side or evil villains out to get her. This girls worst enemy was her own mind, and that was so much more terrifying to read.
Before going into this book I did know a little about Sylvia Plath and her own battle with mental illness and I could definitely make that connection between the author and the fictional character. It seemed to me she wrote this book almost semi-biographically as it felt so honest. It wasn’t like I was reading the National Health Service website like I so often feel when I read mental health books. The way she described depression was personal, the way it made Esther feel and think was only something a person who had experienced those thoughts could write about. While it made me sad when I realised this I can’t help but thank Sylvia Plath for sharing this book with the world.
While I would love to lie to you and say I didn’t relate to this book at all, this review just wouldn’t feel honest/complete. So yes, I related to Esther in a lot of ways. At times I felt Sylvia had actually dug into my own mind before writing this book (especially when my home town was mentioned, which has never ever happened before.) However I don’t feel like that’s out of the ordinary. Everybody has their ‘Fig Tree’ and everybody deals with it differently. Some take it in their stride and some are crippled by the fear of the unknown.
This book is eye opening and terrifying. To anyone who doesn’t understand how someone could possibly become mentally ill or thinks they’re alone in this, I urge you to read this book. It made my heart pound and head spin and while it’s not a perfect book it is a true accomplishment.
Thanks for reading