Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's great to be alive!

This post is to reassure you, faithful readers, that I still am. However, Esther in The Bell Jar didn't think it was so great.

Yes, took some time to read this weekend after checking in with myself and realizing that the lack of new reading was why I was not feeling quite human. So I read Roots and The Bell Jar on Saturday (raiding that pile of books I own but still have not read, not a huge one). Sylvia Plath is such an icon that I don't know how I didn't read The Bell Jar, but I think that, like Slaughterhouse Five or Catch-22, it was one of those books that a certain group of très cool, world-weary teenagers would carry around and rave about. 'Nuff said.

I was astonished at how extremely pertinent Esther's neurosis and mental breakdown still is, though; ambitious but purposeless girl in big city, returns to small town, sexual hangups, academic confusion, mental institution. Except for the shock treatments, it's dreadfully realistic and depressing. As a matter of fact, so much so that I couldn't quite appreciate the beautiful Plathian descriptive writing and very tightly told story. Nobody talks much about the craftsmanship of the novel, and I can see why, as you spend a lot of time thinking, "Oh dear lord, this sad girl." But it is very well told. At the same time, there were some episodes out of the story arc, particularly Esther's first major sexual experience, that were clearly meant to reflect her mental state and that I didn't feel were entirely successful -- didn't manage to be quite unclear enough to be dreamlike or extra frightening, didn't fill any function in telling us more about Esther. They might as well have been told in a straightforward narrative fashion.

I was very glad to read it at last, and found it well worth reading. Two pop culture notes: confounding author's biography (in this case near hagiography) with novel, I was under the strong impression that the narrator dies at the end. Not so. Also, a couple of years back, Julia Stiles was announced to star in a new film version of the novel. Haven't heard anything on it since.

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