Once in a blue moon you find a book that lulls you into a hazy trance, filling you with the feeling of being surrounded by the satiny cloud of curls like the billowing mud beneath treading swans. A state, which is almost a state of narcosis, that leaves you staring absently at the wall, your mind left reeling from the incredibly well pieced sentences, each and every comma and word etched into the back of your mind. A heavy, harrowing read, but nonetheless fascinating in it's own right.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is such a novel that leaves you in a strangely comforting psychological calm. I was not gripped by high speed car chases, drug scandals and murder cases as is the norm, but rather I was enamoured by the incredibly deep portrayal of the human mind. The novel did not have a clear plot, or a clear structure. Plath ignored the linear rules of a structured beginning, middle and end, yet rather focused on a chain of events and thought sequences, past and present, in order to portray the battle against insanity experienced by the protagonist, Esther.
The novel is a semi autobiography of Sylvia Plath. Sylvia Plath is a woman that has sparked great interest in me over the past few months, ever since reading 'Wind' by Ted Hughes, her former husband. The poem is an extended metaphor of a brutal and harrowing relationship, which led me into the quest to discover more about Plath. Throughout her childhood, she was the depiction of a model daughter and student, publishing her first poem at the mere age of eight. Plath's desire to excel was reflected from an early age and she was awarded multiple scholarships, including scholarships to study in Cambridge. However, as depicted in this novel, Plath's life was not as postcard perfect as apparent to the blind eye. Her life was underlain by severe doubts of depression, which led to multiple suicide attempts. She married Ted Hughes, a highly respected and well established writer in 1956. Whilst this new fresh start proved her inner anxiety's to disperse for a while, the relationship was soon haunted by these, and as a result the marriage ended up brutal, relentless and suffocating. Plath committed suicide at the mere age of 30, on February 11, 1963 with cooking gas after her lifelong anguish and suffering at the hands of psychological means.
The novel is a form of 'confessional writing'. This is when comparing the life of the author to the plot of the book, you see the parallels immediately. This adds both depth and a greater, more chilling meaning to the novel, creating such a powerful force within the writing.
This is beautifully written book. The way in which Plath fluidly re-tells the descent into insanity, through fragmented memory, mirroring the distressing thought process' of a cynical yet intelligent being is ingenious. Each and every sentence is thought provoking, with deeper means, resulting in you being forced to "crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." The writing style is a refreshing, albeit candid outlook on depression and mental illness. The language is quite frankly fascinating. From simple imagery to metaphors and rhetoric, Plath captured a unique outlook on life, and somehow described the most mundane things and observations in life in an bewitching and captivating way. Plath thoroughly explores the depths of the mind and provides an invaluable insight into the neurotic minds of copious human being's. Plath describes and explores Esther's inner demons so accurately that its as if she herself crawls into your head, dispersing the feelings out; making you feel the harrowing suffocation. It causes you to feel claustrophobic in a weirdly good way, as if you cannot crave enough of the chilling existence of Esther and the strangely enslaving occurrences undergone within the novel.
Despite the harrowing undertones, the book in itself is not depressing. Admittedly, I was left chilled and subdued at many a points throughout the novel but it was down to the disturbing nature of the thoughts and the eerie way in which the behaviour was considered perfectly normal. For example, it's referred back to the fact that she has not slept in over a month. I find this particularly disturbing, and whilst is is not the greatest example, this portrayed a greater level of psychological harm than many others. The novel is unexpectedly filled with spells of sharp humour, that force a genuine smile onto your lips. The dark wit and razor sharp observations add to faultlessly to the humorous and more light hearted side of the novel.
The way in which Plath describes the mental illness is incredible. In chapter 15, the feelings of solitude and detachment experienced by sufferers of depression is likened to a bell jar. Plath is exploring the idea that she is trapped in suffocating isolation, and her own mind is driving her to insanity. The bell jar will forever be lingering above her, awaiting the time once again when her own mind will drive her to the depths of despair, and trap her once again. In the last chapter, Esther depicts the following sentence; "How did I know that someday - at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere - the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?". This gains an almost prophetic and symbolic meaning as these last words eerily mirror Plath's own self destructed fate, occurring weeks after the publication of The Bell Jar.