Like a lot of people, I studied Plath in school – and I didn’t like her work. For sixteen-year-old me, her poetry was angry, and spiky, and so devastatingly sad that I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. It was outside my comfort zone, and I couldn’t see the aestheticism, and then when I heard that the next year’s class hadn’t studied her because “If I have to teach her one more time I’m going to slit my wrists,” I decided that it was okay not to like Plath, and moved on.
Of course, there are some books you can’t get along without hearing about, and one of them is The Bell Jar. I’ve heard about it so many times, about how it’s beautiful, and autobiographical, and depressing as all hell. It’s been on my to-read list for a long time, because so many people seem to love it, but I’ve avoided it because I’m just not that into depressing myself.
I ended up reading it this month, and I spent the whole time going, What the hell have I been waiting for?
It’s beautiful and devastating and tragic, of course, but it’s also hopeful. I felt uplifted at the end, because despite everything, Esther is looking forward to her future. And, for sure, there’s no way for us to know whether or not she’ll continue to have thoughts about suicide, or if, sometime down the track, she’ll enter into a deep slump that she can’t get out of – but there’s also the possibility that she’ll be better. That college and writing and work will give her purpose, something to hope for, and that that will allow her to keep on. Plath’s ideal life, as one of my friends who saw me reading the book suggested flippantly.
Plath’s prose is beautiful, nowhere near as angry and spiky as the poetry I studied in high school. It’s much more soft and elegant, almost as if Plath were treating Esther and her depression with the kid gloves that Esther herself should have been treated with the whole time.
I said in my Goodreads review, Can’t wait to re-read. I haven’t re-read a book for a long time, excepting those that I never finished in the first place and had to start again, but I will happily make an exception for The Bell Jar. Simply lovely.