Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Bell Jar

by Sylvia Plath

I was nervous picking up this novel. My co-worker and reading buddy Ezzy told me I'd better not be depressed while reading it, and though I'm normally a happy, perky, smiling person, I was honestly afraid this book would somehow sneak into my psyche and manipulate me into an asylum. So it was with much trepidation that I started reading the first chapter.

And, needless to say, I survived! Here I am before you, still the same happy, perky smiler, and yet I think I may have gained some insight because of this novel. I will admit I had some pretty morbid notions while reading, but I've come out unscathed, and able to recommend this to anyone who's on the fence about reading it. Especially to any psychologists out there; it's definitely an interesting perspective from a woman who goes from "normal" to "insane".

The poet in Sylvia Plath emerged in the entire course of the novel. Her descriptions are nothing short of beautiful, and the life of Esther Greenwood plays before your mind's eye like a motion picture. The opening image of New York city is so vivid you can practically feel the heat of summer in the city: "Mirage-gray at the bottom of their granite canyons, the hot streets wavered in the sun, the car tops sizzled and glittered, and the dry, cindery dust blew into my eyes and down my throat". I love it. The words ebb and flow and just create.

It is tough following a woman down into her depression. She has this great life working as an intern for a fashion magazine in the heart of New York City, and then, she just doesn't care anymore. Her life whirls around her and it's as if she just wants to get off the ride. And the voice is very conversational, very informal. I could relate to the character; even though I'm not depressed myself, I felt sympathy and friendship with Esther. If I had known her, I would have visited her in the asylum.

The insight that I found in myself was that I can have morbid thoughts and not act on them. Esther had morbid thoughts, and she went through with them, (or tried to) such as the scene with the blades or the scene at the beach where she tried to drown herself. In the midst of reading this, I was driving home from rehearsal (I co-direct children's theatre in my spare time) and I wondered what it'd be like to drive into the guard-rail. Don't get me wrong, I'm far from suicidal; I love my life (most of it, anyway) and plan on living as long as possible, but Sylvia just had me in that mindset, and I never would have gone there if I hadn't read this book.

On a side note, it was interesting reading the copy I borrowed from Ezzy, because she's dog-eared many pages of sections she found worth going back to. As I was reading, and if it had been my book, I discovered that I would have had different dog-ears on different pages (if I were the dog-earing type, which I'm not). It's very interesting to see the perspective of a reader other than myself, and how we each read a book differently. How many times can I use the word "different" in this paragraph? ;)

Anyway, it's a good book, thought-provoking, creative, a bit morbid, but well worth the read.

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