The Bell Jar

Sometimes I think I should write two book reviews. I should write one when I’m in the middle of reading a book and I don’t know how it will end. And then I should write one after I’ve finished it.

Because a book is an experience. It’s not an entire thing. You can feel one way about it in the middle and very different at the end. The middle is often the best part, it’s like being on the rollercoaster. The end of the book is what you remember about being on the roller coaster.

The Bell Jar was amazing because of how it pulled me into the emotions without me realizing I was in the middle of them.

I’ll tell you, books pull me in. I felt sick and scared and weird when I read Beloved. The Fountainhead makes me cold and fierce and ambitious. I cried for days and days about the state of the world after I read The Poisonwood Bible. My speech pattern change entirely when I read Sense and Sensibility; I require far more clauses to ask for a cup of tea.

And Plath sucked me into the bell jar. I was there with Esther in the middle of all her strange feelings. Plath doesn’t go into huge explanations of why Esther feels pointless, so I didn’t realize when I started feeling pointless too.

But oh my god, I felt pointless. Everything seemed incredibly overwhelming. While I was reading the book, I had no desire to do anything. I felt like blowing off all my responsibilities and just curling up in a chair and reading.

I feel that way sometimes. It didn’t seem unusual that I felt that way while reading this book. But when some challenges showed up at work, they practically undid me. I felt like I totally couldn’t handle them, like there was no way out, that I was damned if I did and damned anyway. My stomach tightened up and I felt like crawling under my desk and hiding.

It was intense.

I blame the book. I mean, my job sucks, but wow.

And that’s why I think this is a great book. I didn’t feel fabulous reading it, absolutely the opposite. But the fact that it could operate on me so powerfully takes my breath away.

Plath is good.

So that stuff I just wrote might have been the stuff I would have written if I hadn’t finished the book. Now, after I’ve finished it I can say all kind of detached things.

Plath wrote a good story about suicidal urges. I have not been that kind of suicidal myself, but my frieds who have describe it in a very similar way. That suicide is a thing out there, a task to be done, something that needs to be done, and it’s just a matter of finding the right time.

When Esther recieves the “good” shock treatment, she describes how she kind of forgot that she needed to kill herself. To paraphrase, she says she went to dinner and could not quite remember what she loved the knives for.

I don’t know if other people would agree with me, but as I was reading the book, it seemed very easy to follow the logic Esther was using. It was hard to realize she was going crazy until she gave you the clues: she hadn’t slept for a week. She hadn’t bathed or changed her clothes.

The bathing part I felt was particularly significant, since she had earlier described how much she loved bathing. But then, she didn’t want to bathe anymore.

It was definitely not pleasant to read this book, but it was very powerful.