Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar

I picked up The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath) for a few reasons:

  1. a couple of friends love it;
  2. I liked Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides To Die and while their story is not similar, they deal with life inside a mental institution; and
  3. I was intrigued with Plath’s life and I liked her poetry.

I started reading the book with high hopes of me enjoying it, as it looked like an easy read (not very thick). Unfortunately, it took me a couple of months to finish. Egad.

The culprit wasn’t work, or real life. I simply wasn’t drawn enough to the book to continue reading once I got to the middle. The major culprit was probably my high expectations — the book failed to grip me at the onset, though I did feel that the writing was very well-done, heavy and visual and it wraps around you. If I was reading, it was mostly for the prose, and the parallels to Plath’s life, rather than the protagonist herself.

(I realize there’s probably a fine line between Esther/Sylvia, but while I was quite intrigued with Plath’s life, Esther’s was another story.)

I picked it up again (and finished it) when 2007 started, and while my view of the book improved once I’d finished, I still feel rather disconnected from Esther. In theory, I should be able to relate to her a bit, because while I don’t suffer from clinical depression, we do have things in common: wanting two seeingly mutually exclusive things at the same time (i.e., living in the country or city); being able to “win” writing/literary-related things but there’s still a struggle to write because of reasons like we haven’t had much “experience” to write convincingly; annoyance with the inequality between the sexes when it comes to morality. Obviously, the feeling of being disconnected from the main character was where this book failed for me; it’s very critical for me that books grab hold of my emotions, especially if the plot is not focused on action/adventure. Since we see the world through Esther’s eyes and somehow, for all the beautiful prose, Esther did not grip me — it was almost fatal.

(At least I wasn’t annoyed at her, which happens rather frequently with books like these, i.e. Catcher in the Rye.)

Part of my reaction to the book, I think, is brought about by a faint sense of confusion as to whether it has enough depth or not. We see a lot into Esther’s personality from the way she thinks and acts, that’s true; but somehow the book leaves me looking for more depth than what is given. I’m not sure if this is because of the writing style or chronology of events, like sometimes I’ve had the feeling that I missed something somewhere because of the way the novel flows.

The verdict: Good read, but not nearly as gripping as I personally expected it to be.

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