The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

The Bell JarThis is going to be a very short review. (at least, that’s what Past Weishi thought it would be. Present Weishi realises that Past Weishi was very ignorant)

The main reason is that I could not cover everything in this book if I tried. There are probably a lot more coherent and intelligent and wonderful reviews about this book floating around on the internet, and I really don’t think I have the ability to cover everything that is so brilliant about it.

But yes, it is definitely brilliant.

Oh god, is it brilliant.

Summary

Seriously, you should just read the actual blurb for it. It’s a good blurb. Here’s a short version.

Esther Greenwood slowly losing her grip on reality and spiraling into a breakdown.

Cons

Maybe one will come to me.

And maybe not.

Pros

Characters were all flawless. Perhaps it’s because it was based on Sylvia Plath’s own experiences, but you could not say that any of these characters were just characters. They were real people, with very real flaws and very real promises of life and goodness inside them. And Esther was the most amazing character of all, because she wasn’t likeable at times, she did horrible things and said horrible things, except she wasn’t the type of character that you can pin a particular flaw onto, because like all real people, they don’t have one detrimental flaw to them and nothing else, they are made up of lots of little flaws, lots of tiny cracks on their skin, instead of  a gaping big break through the centre.

It is extremely hard to write characters this way. A lot of authors will pin one or two flaws onto a character just to even them out from all the good stuff, they might be spoilt or rude or ignorant or (in some really stupid cases that don’t count as flaws) so modest that they don’t realise they’re obvious attractiveness and intelligence even when their supernatural boyfriend is constantly telling them how amazing they are and why can’t they just see that they’re perfect in every way… Esther was made up of many different facets of personality, instead of one or two traits placed upon her in clichés.

Rationalising everything she did to the point where had to convince myself that she was indeed crazy, though she thought of herself to be perfectly sane. You see her actions mimicked in other characters that she thinks are crazy, you see her paranoia and anxiety and self-hatred but she rationalises so well to herself that I start to think that she is perhaps the sanest person in the room, when in reality it is very different.

The reason Esther slipped into depression was also very believable. A lot of authors feel the need to rationalise this depression with some large, traumatic event, that impacts them like a great shock wave. Esther with her seemingly perfect life didn’t need something to break her, because she broke herself just by living. She didn’t do anything to cause it, it just happened, because all those little things that nagged at her that didn’t seem like anything at the time, slowly built up until in one moment of revelation, she realised just how overwhelmed she was by everything. Not only is Esther trapped by herself, she is trapped by society, by the people around her, by the expectations of her family and this constant need she feels to be perfect and please everyone, and feeling completely out of place in the world. No large traumatic event is needed to make Esther’s depression believable, because large traumatic events aren’t always the reason for depression.

Another great thing was how the book never specifically mentioned the fact that Esther was in depression, or that she needed help. Throughout most of her time, Esther is convinced that she is sane, but at the same time slipping, and we see her descent into this surreal world so built up carefully and somehow so controlled, yet so out of her own hands.

Man, this is turning into an essay. Next thing you know, I’ll be doing an analysis of the wording and structure of the novel (though I will say that I liked how Plath did the scene of her attempted suicide, with the flashbacks and no sense of time passing and altogether way it was done).

Seriously I need to stop now before this turns into an essay, even if I have so much more to say.

Quotes

  • “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
  • “If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.”
  • “The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
  • “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
  • “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.”

Overall

5 Shuriken Stars. That shouldn’t even be a question. It was amazing and intense and sad and beautiful and brilliant.

 

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