The Bell Jar: ‘Not depressing- simply refreshing’
With my New Year’s Resolution to read more classics fresh in my mind, I perused Waterstones and finally decided on the only novel of one of the world’s most famous poets, Sylvia Plath. I was apprehensive at first – I don’t like depressing books. Plath is viewed as a tragic figure, and the blurb of the book described the novel as being ‘as bitter and remorseless as her last poems’. However, much to my delight, I did not find The Bell Jar depressing – simply refreshing.
Set in the fifties, the book follows Esther Greenwood as she is swept up in the unfamiliar bustle of New York, where she is undertaking her journalism scholarship. As time goes on in her new-found isolated state, Esther comes to the realisation that she is no longer ‘herself’. She no longer feels her former passion for writing, and desperately claims that she “can’t eat, can’t read, can’t sleep”.
Three pages in, and I was hooked. Whilst there is definitely a theme of sadness running throughout, this book had me laughing out loud at several points, which is something a book has never made me do before. Esther is wonderfully relatable, with remarks such as “I’m not sure why it is, but I love food more than just about anything else.”, making her loveable as well as a figure who embodies the typical experience of clinical depression.
It is Esther’s wit which makes this book, for me. She gives in-depth, poetic, and very much accurate descriptions of her feelings and her fears. The book would indeed be awfully melancholy if not for the amusing attributes of Esther, and I feel that this further helps with the book’s portrayal of depression – it is not all rain clouds and darkness, and people don’t suddenly lose their entire personality when they become depressed.
Like any good classic, The Bell Jar is filled with quotes that you’ll treasure to accompany an insightful and sombre, yet charming story. It is now my favourite book, and I highly recommend it.