Review: The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
244 pages
Harper Perennial (1971)
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Rereadability: I will probably revisit this one someday.

Reviewed by Pete

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is one of those books that seems to have its own solar system. It’s been read by so many people, and hated and loved by so many people, that I’m a bit afraid of adding to the conversation.

It’s a book that I think does better without a synopsis. I went into it with a lot of vague ideas about its plot and themes, and I wish I’d been able to set those aside—I would have enjoyed the beginning of the novel more if I had.

The Bell Jar is in some ways as if The Catcher in the Rye started at its halfway point and continued another 150 pages after Holden Caulfield is committed to a mental hospital. I had trouble with the beginning of the book—I found Esther Greenwood vain and judgmental of others (much like Holden), and her problems seemed petty.

The book takes a quick, dark turn that isn’t really a turn at all but is instead an exploration of Esther’s fragile mental state. It’s painful to read at times, and Sylvia Plath’s own struggle with mental illness, and her eventual suicide, add gravity to the story.

Though it was an exhausting read, and definitely a book I wasn’t looking forward to reading each time I cracked it open, I am glad I read it; I will definitely revisit The Bell Jar someday with a bit more patience and readiness.

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