Friday, 7 August 2009
The Bell Jar
"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York". Such an opening line! It was a queer, sultry summer, ten years ago that I first discovered Sylvia Plath, the summer before I began University. Back then I didn't know who the Rosenbergs were, I didn't know who Sylvia Plath was, but it was enough to know that she had killed herself by putting her head in an oven to court my interest. As an angsty eighteen year old whose own pain made her self-involved, I loved controversy and Sylvia Plath with her tragic suicide and appropriation of the Holocaust to evoke her pain, was right up my street. That summer I read her poetry and then during the year I read The Bell Jar around the same time that I first read The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. Melodramatic much?
Re-reading it a decade later for the Savidge Reads Book Group I had more of a perspective. Where the first experience of it spoke to my tortured, intense, and angst-filled self, the revisit allowed me to appreciate the beautiful prose and the humour that pervades the novel that is inaccurately thought of as depressing. The Bell Jar is dark, of course it is: it deals with the themes of depression and attempted suicide (the first of its kind) but amidst some comedic instances. Plath/Esther Greenwood is exceptionally observant and witty; her observations and insight into her thoughts and thought processes are highly amusing; Esther gives voice to bizarre thoughts, the type of which we wouldn't admit to anyone. I appreciated the stripped-back exposure of Esther, naked and wounded. The ones at book group who were re-reading the book agreed that it should be compulsory for adults who had read The Bell Jar in their youth to re-read it again in adulthood. It resonated with me in my angst-ridden days and it resonated with me again -in a different way- as a more mature, less naïve adult; having been in the bell jar -that confined, claustrophobic, introspective place- between now and then, I appreciate it more and am less inclined to think that it "speaks to" my poor, immature, tortured soul. Yes, I am being self-deprecating but I recognised its black humour during this re-read and perceived that it is not all darkness and tragedy. In many ways I identified more with Esther this time around than I ever did, or thought I did.
These are more my thoughts and impressions outwith a normal book review but I have a lot of thoughts and impressions about this book! I suspect that most posts made after book group will be random observations about the book as I ponder it after discussion, rather than a cohesive account.
To lighten what can often be a light book anyway, I would like to share a favourite quote from a favourite show, Gilmore Girls:
"Hey, did anybody ever think maybe Sylvia Plath wasn't crazy, she was just cold?" Lorelai Gilmore
Often, when I feel cold, I love to take a bath.
"There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them. Whenever I'm sad I'm going to die, or so nervous I can't sleep, or in love with somebody I won't be seeing for a week, I slump down so far and then I say: 'I'll go take a hot bath.'" (page 18)