Have you read: The Bell Jar
Though many people will have heard of this book, when I read it I was left wondering how many people had picked it up and disregarded it as quickly.
It may well be that the tale of a young woman's descent into madness is what so many people find unattractive in this novel. It is so seriously written, even in the moments when it is funniest, and so well construed that it hazes the eyes of the reader in a delightfully secretive way. Plath seems to be sharing a secret that she didn't want someone else to overhear.
And, though I put it down after the first three chapters and refused to pick it up again for at least a year afterwards, I am extremely glad that I persevered. My second attempt presented to me the strong sense of place and time so key in mid-twentieth-century America, encapsulating wispy, smoky characters that seem constantly covered beneath a film of suspicion; the whirlwind events of a life spiralling toward the darkest of places in a sickly sense of unknowing and trepidation.
Contemporary reviews of this audacious piece were generally positive, yet how much this had to do with Plath's imminent suicide can never truly be known. This is perhaps a cynical position to take, but I do not do so out of a dislike for the book (it is one of my very favourites). I merely seek to recognise a book so clearly devoted to the recognition of a troubled woman's problems and the lack of help she received after its publishing. The book was not published in America until eight years after it reached the eyes and hearts of the rest of the world, at the behest of the author's mother and her husband, Ted Hughes.
Surrounded by a mass of well connected retrospective shifts and fixating on several polemical yet socially relevant themes, such as relationships, the first forays into the world of work, and the forging of identity at a time when independence for middle-class women was out of the ordinary, The Bell Jar jars what we expect of American twentieth-century fiction and forces it into reverse. This makes us rethink our previously ill-considered findings and scratch our heads at where to put this novel. In which category does it fit?
The Bell Jar is most decidedly a wild card, written by a unique woman with a brilliant and vibrant mind. What makes it so gripping and such a fantastic read is how it controversially deals with a society now changed, and highlights the causes of madness to a troubled mind in a world of progress and constant change.
It is not often that we get the chance to see beneath the veil into the life of an author - particularly of those as reclusive as Plath - and it is for this reason that The Bell Jar, by all rights an autobiography shrouded in fictional re-workings of real events, is quite the book for you summer.
Read more reviews by James at http://jrmetcalf1992.blogspot.co.uk.