Monday, 8 October 2007

Book Review - The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath

Pioneering stuff from America's suicide sweetheart

Ever since Silvia Plath lovingly locked her young children in a sealed bedroom and committed suicide in the gas oven just a wall away from where they slept, her life has become a story of overblown obsession for some, and scadalised intrigue for many.

Next year the hype is sure to resurface yet again as Julia Stiles plans to direct and star in the Hollywood version of 'The Bell Jar', Plath’s only novel. (She was a poet of immeasurable talent and originality for most of her short life.) And so I beg you, reader of literary integrity, to form your opinion of this pioneering female writer not on the watered-down wastes of cinematic interpretation but from the words of the woman herself.

'The Bell Jar' comes closer than seemingly possible to invoking the utter blank blackness of a woman on the edge of insanity, consumed by the apparent meaninglessness of her existence. This sounds a rather depressing subject for a novel, but Plath’s pervasive dark wit provides moments of humour, whilst her mastery of the poetic stream-of-consciousness technique will have you tumbling through the pages just as the protagonist, Ester Greenwood, tumbled through society’s conformist hoops before her breakdown.

Esther is a sharp young talent, one of twelve lucky young girls whose writing has won them an internship in the office of a New York magazine, where they are spoiled with gifts and fashion shows and parties in abundance. What should have been every girl’s dream turns into Esther’s nightmare as she becomes increasingly unable to comprehend the frivolities that suffocate her at every turn, instead becoming increasingly disconnected from physical reality.

Early potential publishers rejected 'The Bell Jar' as being ‘disappointing, juvenile and overwrought’, a definite failure to understand Plath’s extraordinary propensity for realism – for these qualities are exactly the same as the ones that Esther grapples and gushes forth with throughout the novel. This is depression in all its terrifyingly destructive glory, pushed to its most dangerous frontiers, but made universally relevant through Plath’s exploration of the struggle for post-adolescent self-definition.

No comments: