I have mixed feelings about this novel. Though I’ve never read any of Sylvia Plath‘s work, it is very clear even by reading ‘The Bell Jar‘ that she is a poet. I looooved the poetic language and the imagery she uses in her writing, which really helped give the reader a clear picture of what she was trying to get across – the image of depression as being stuck under a bell jar and being suffocated was a really clever way to describe what depression feels like to the reader. There was one line in particular I really really loved because it incorporated one of the main themes of the novel perfectly: “I tried to think what I had loved knives for, but my mind slipped from the noose of the thought and swung, like a bird, in the centre of empty air.” My degree has instilled a love of dissecting literature and looking at what the author has done and why, and the realisation that I could do this almost without thinking was a thrilling thought. As a literature graduate I could appreciate the talent behind the novel, but the overall narrative was so dark.
While I can appreciate the craft and effort put into this novel and the vast poetic language Plath uses, I wouldn’t say it was a novel that blew me away. The subject matter was so dark, and as much as I loooove the imagery there wasn’t really a story when you stripped back to the bare bones of the plot. I’m sure this is a novel that many graduates can relate to: having the idea that you were going to do amazing things once you had your degree and you have your whole life set out in front of you, but life isn’t that easy. Esther’s descent into madness is a more exaggerated version of what happens to us when we leave uni and reality starts to dawn.
As much as I loved the language and poetic imagery, I didn’t really love it as a novel. To me, a novel has to have a gripping plot. It has to pull the reader in and make you lose yourself in the author’s world for a while. This novel didn’t do that – it just made me feel miserable when I was reading it. The overall plot just felt very dry because really nothing much happened in it.
I loved Plath’s criticism of what a woman’s expected life was to be like in 50s America. The notion that women are meant to please their husbands – cook, clean, and become baby factories and nothing else – really makes my blood boil. I liked that Plath openly mocked this continually. For example, the mother of a large family having the name of Dodo – implying that the stereotypical woman who would choose such a lifestyle is herself existinct and that women are allowed to have careers and lives of their own. As well as the double standards that the patriarchal society puts on women, and still puts on women today! If men sleep around with as many women as they can it is seen as a right of passage, a medal of honour where they are commended for their sexual prowess. Where as if a woman were to sleep with as many men, sometimes even less men, they are branded as sluts and seen as ruined and no longer pure. This is complete and utter rubbish, and I can’t believe societal norms still dictate that it is socially unnacceptable for women to do so when they accept that it is okay for men. As long as nobody is being harmed, what does it matter? I liked that Plath pointed out these inequalities in her narrative.
As much as I can appreciate the craft that has gone into this novel, and the thought behind it, I still can’t give it more than a 3/5. This is blatantly literary fiction, but I think the main subject matter is so dark it makes it impossible for me to give it a higher rating. When I finished it, I didn’t think “Wow, that was an amazing novel.” I was glad I could read something more cheerful to lighten the mood!