Book Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I am not a poetry fan; never have been and probably never will be. This reason is probably why I avoided Sylvia Plath for the first 26 years of my life. Then I discovered she had written a novel, and I realized that I was at a perfect point in my life to read it. That novel was ‘The Bell Jar’, which I am going to introduce to those who have too bypassed Ms. Plath’s work.

The Bell Jar is a semi-biographical novel based around Esther Greenwood, a talented woman hoping to make it as a writer, but is slowly sinking into a deeper and deeper state of depression. If you are someone who suffers from depression, whether you have realized it yet or not, this is the book for you.

Plath has a fantastic way of writing which really delves into the depth of depression. Through her words, we feel we are following the same path as Esther, learning more about the illness, understanding different rationales and, finally, different ways of coping.

Some phrases in the book certainly ring true for sufferers of depression. For myself, especially at the start, I really didn’t know what was going on inside my head. I knew the basic information about what I was dealing with, but found it very hard to explain and understand my feelings. By ‘living’ the life of Esther in a way, I was able to put a number of things in place, but most importantly, reading the book was the first time I never felt alone in my struggle. Some parts just completely connected with me and knowing it was loosely based in Sylvia herself, it was very much a relief to know that I wasn’t the only person ever to have felt like this or thought such unpleasant things. Phrases which particularly stood out for me include:

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

“I was supposed to be having the time of my life.”

“But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defensless that I couldn’t do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get.”

Moving beyond a personal level, Plath certainly knows how to write and the imagery presented in this book is one that will stick with you for a long time, whether you suffer from depression or not. Yes, it is dated in certain parts (electric shock treatment) but the feelings and emotions portrayed are timeless.

I really don’t know how to end this post, or even structure it for that matter, so my apologies if it comes across as rambling. It is hard for me to delve really far into The Bell Jar without making things really personal and that is not something I am ready to do. But I do hope that you will be spurred on just a little bit to read The Bell Jar and be provided with a deeper understanding of depression which may help you or a loved one in the future.


    1. Personally, I got more good out of it than bad. But I suppose it will be a matter of each to their own. If you do read it, I hope you find the positive in the story. Can you recommend any books to me?

  1. The Bell Jar is a book that’s always been on my ‘must read’ list, but I’ve never quiet gotten around to it. Partly, I think it’s the fear. We all know Sylvia’s story, her death was the joke in many an English class in school. I guess I’m a bit worried that I’ll relate to what she writes like you have and put myself back in that position. Hopefully, I am stronger than that, but it’s still a little scary. xx

    1. You are definitely stronger than you think but it is never a good idea to rush yourself into something you are not ready for yet. Are there any books which you have found useful? I would love to read some more x

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