The Bell Jar

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sylvia Plath, pub. 1963 under pseudonym Victoria Lucas in Britain; then with Plath’s name in 1967, and in the US in 1971

I feel ridiculously unworthy of reviewing this work. It’s five stars. That’s all.

Plot summary: this is a fictionalized autobiographical novel narrated in first person by author and college student Esther Greenwood, who spends a month in New York City working for a magazine, then spends several more weeks or months at an inpatient mental health facility. This mirrors Plath’s life, which ended in suicide shortly after The Bell Jar was published in the UK and and before its US publication.

I bought the Audible version, narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and listened to about half of it. Gyllenhaal, by the way, affects a Plath-esque voice early on, which is discordant and distracting at first. Either I got used to it or she toned it down, but the voice no longer bothered me by the third chapter or so. Listen to Sylvia Plath reading one of her poems, “The Applicant,” below, and imagine an imitation of this voice; then continue reading below the video:

About ten chapters into the audiobook, I realized that I was hearing prose that I wanted to experience visually. I checked out the e-book from the library and read until two chapters from the end this afternoon. I switched back to the audiobook while I took a walk and listened until the end, which included in-depth biographical notes about the professional and personal life of Sylvia Plath.

There are acknowledgments in the print version that credit Plath with the sketches in the book, but I could only find two little drawings.

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