I decided it was ridiculous I’d never read The Bell Jar. This was my thought almost as soon as I’d made my resolution to make sure I expand my current reading horizons, so it was first book I started. I’m extremely glad I did so.
I’m also glad I waited until now to read it. I don’t think I would have appreciated it before this point in my life. There’s something about the nature of it that being slightly older I relate to, and understand more than I would have at 18.
There’s much I could say about this. But the overwhelming feeling I gain from this novel is intense sadness; as not much has changed since Plath was writing. The nature of mental illness, the ‘bell jar’ of depression is so brilliantly recounted, and the reactions of those around her as so tangible. And sadly, exactly what many people experience today. The person who won’t marry someone who has been sectioned or hospitalised, the fear you can make someone mentally ill by association. The parents who feel they somehow failed as their child has depression. The overwhelming need for women in society to be married and child giving, and the sense of failure put upon those who are not.
The fig tree metaphor is a classic, and will remain one of my favourites: ‘I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.’ That feeling of wanting everything, of not knowing what the future will hold, and not understanding how to achieve even one of them without losing a part of yourself. It’s all conveyed brilliantly, and so relatable. The nature of being a woman in her time is explored so brilliantly. I felt lost, frustrated and desperate at the world just as she did, in everything she did.
What I also love about this novel is how it portrays that mental illness can happen to anyone. You can relate to Esther’s feelings of loss, of emptiness and confusion until a point when she turns and suddenly all becomes meaningless. That’s how it works; it just spirals out until there’s nowhere left to go.
It’s a five star novel, and will always remain so to me.