“…I was open to the circulating air.”
On an appropriately dull and dreary day of early June, I turned off the reality tv show that I had been embarrassingly engrossed in all morning and finally settled down with my copy of The Bell Jar, a book that I have been intending to read for at least the last four years. Here are my thoughts on it, full of innumerable spoilers – so keep reading at your own discretion.
I must admit, for the first half of the book, my dominant emotion was the feeling of being spectacularly underwhelmed. Whilst I am certainly not denying that I was enjoying the book, I certainly struggled to understand how it gained such high praise. To me, the narrative of Esther’s summer in New York, the account of fancy dinners with the magazine editor and of her exciting friend and the predictable entourage of boys that followed suit seemed just that: predictable. For me, the premise of The Bell Jar was no more captivating than many other American novels and seemed almost generic in style; remnant of both those regarded as classics, such as Breakfast of Tiffany’s and, likewise, not too dissimilar to Gossip Girl and other modern works, which are certainly not renowned for their literary brilliance. To be frank, the much quoted “I was supposed to be having the time of my life” summed up how I felt towards the first half of The Bell Jar quite nicely.
That said, the second half of my book did raise my opinion of the much loved book. The exploration of Esther’s descent into increasingly deeper depression was portrayed subtly and skilfully, and her experiences with various doctors and hospitals could not help but captivate any reader, even those, like me, that had been skeptical originally. Further, the suicide of not Esther but Joan was something that I particularly appreciated as a plot devise as, although Joan was quite a minor character, it was not the death that we had been expecting, thus adding a sadder, more poignant layer to the story as a whole.
As a reader, I found myself hooked towards the end of the book in the way that I had perhaps not been at the beginning. Whilst I am still unsure on whether I would rate The Bell Jar quite as highly as some of the reviews I have seen, I would certainly say that it was a book that left a lingering note of sadness, which was, indeed, the beauty of the novel and Plath’s writing.