Represent: The Bell Jar- Sylvia Plath

bell jar, noun

  1. a bell-shaped glass cover used for covering delicate objects or used in a laboratory, typically for enclosing samples.
    • an environment in which someone is protected or cut off from the outside world.

Sylvia Plath’s first and only novel was due to be so controversial, she decided to first publish it under a pseudonym in the UK. Even though peoples names and locations were changed, it was quite obvious to everyone involved that this novel, was in fact a semi-autobiography of Plath’s early years. The story was thought to be so damaging that it wasn’t published in the USA until 1971 and has said to have broken up marriages of some of the people within. 

We first meet Esther Greenwood in New York City. She has left her Massachusetts home for a month to complete an internship with the editor of a high profile fashion magazine. It’s her first trip away without her mother and she should be thrilled to be on such an adventure in ‘The Big Apple.’ “I was supposed to be having the time of my life.” But she wasn’t. All the other girls on the trip lapped up the glamorous lifestyle of the city, attending events, sneaking cocktails and chasing after local boys. Instead of following their lead, Esther heads back to Massachusetts with conflicting emotions about the whole experience. 

During her academic life she has grown accustomed to receiving scholarships and earning awards at the drop of a hat, so when she returns from her trip to find out she has not secured a place on a Harvard writing course, everything begins to unravel. With no immediate plans or direction, she has reached a cross roads in her life where all the options seem unappealing. In 1950’s suburban America, the next step would be to find a husband, settle down and become the adoring housewife. The pressures of 20th century society and her un-structured summer sends her in a downward spiral that transport her into the world of psychiatrists, asylums & electric shock therapy.

Eventually she leaves the asylum and presses the play button on her life. Esther returns to college to finish the school year, takes up writing poetry again then travels to England to continue her studies in Cambridge. She meets her husband to be, Ted Hughes, who is also a poet and then they move back to Boston together. She becomes a teacher, a mother and then a full time writer before splitting up from Ted and returning to London with her 2 children. 

“How did I know that someday- at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere- the bell jar, with it’s stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?” As Plath predicted, the bell jar loomed above her once again and she made the decision to take her life. She never got to witness the waves that her novel created, as she committed suicide a month after it’s release in 1963. 

Most Read: Anybody Out There? – Marian Keyes

When I picked up this book from my local library, I was a little bit horrified by the size of it. I wouldn’t normally chose something of this category for myself but it was surprisingly easy to plough through over a couple of rainy afternoons and multiple cups of tea. I really enjoyed Marian Keyes lighthearted and comical writing style which balances out well with the darker themes of; death, depression and drug addiction.

Being Irish herself, Keyes hits the nail on the head when it comes to the characters within the Walsh family and the events that befall them within their small town. ‘Anybody out there?’ is the fourth novel within the Walsh family series, in each one we hear a different sisters story, 2012 gave us the last sisters story. In all honesty, I wouldn’t be totally averse to picking up the other ones, they’re ‘take on holiday’ books, or ‘oops I left it on the train’ books.

By page 91 I had figured out the main twist in the story line. Clues were given very early on and if you’ve watched as much Midsomer Murders as I have, you see ‘clues’ even if there aren’t any. Fairly predictable throughout and a little cliche for my taste regarding Anna’s job, it all felt a little ‘Devil wears Prada’ to me. Despite that, all the extra sideline stories were good fun, especially when the quirky Mammy Walsh was involved.

I’m kind of surprised that this is the most read book in Massachusetts. I was expecting something a little more…academic I suppose. With Harvard, MIT and all the other prestigious colleges in the state I figured it would be more along the lines of ‘which fork to start with first at a dinner party’ or ‘quantum physics for dummies.’ It seems even intellectuals and genius’s are partial to a bit of chick literature every now and then!