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18/50 – The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is my choice for “A book written by someone under 30” in the 50 Book Challenge.


The Bell Jar


I waffled between 4 and 5 stars on this one. The imagery and wordsmithing is impressive, but it's not necessarily the most entertaining read. Still, I have to go with 5 stars simply because – and I speak from experience – I know how difficult it is to truly capture one's descent into madness. Plath succeeded.

I actually hesitated to read this due to the comparisons to The Catcher in the Rye, which I absolutely loathed, but this is nothing like it, imo. Okay, the MCs are both young and disillusioned, but that's the only similarity that I really see. This book is definitely more entertaining than Catcher, the story more gripping, and Esther is a much more sympathetic character. I wish I hadn't held off on reading this for so long. My younger self really could have benefited from this novel.

I only really have two issues with it: first, it at times seems a bit aimless, but then again, that is often how mental illness feels. The writing is compelling enough to make up for what at times appears to be a wandering plot/story arc. So that's not a huge issue for me.

I was uncomfortable with some of the racial insensitivity/possible racist undertones. I realize that this is a product of a time when such things were more common, and I have the privilege of looking back on it from a more mindful position. Still, I can force myself to overlook terms like “Negro” and “yellow Chinaman”, given that Plath wrote this is the late 50s or early 60s...but when she does include PoC in the novel, they come across as one-dimensional stereotypes. They don't have a big enough part to flesh out in great depth, but it's still something that bothered me and was uncomfortable to read.

But for the most part, this is a wonderful book that really captures a mindset that is hard to put into words. It was expertly done with a poet's voice, and I was left impressed far more often than not. There were a great many passages and phrases that really resonated with me. Plath's voice is candid and sincere. Overall, I loved it.