Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Bell Jar

From Amazon: Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel. The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman's mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly-written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman's descent into insanity.

I just read this book. It is extraordinary, powerful and sad. The depiction of her hospital stay is not that different from Norah Gilbert's experiences in "Voluntary Madness" except that shock treatment is no longer in vogue. Elyn Saks' "The Center Can Not Hold" has similar passages. I found "The Bell Jar" somewhat painful to read. But, it is brilliant and insightful (to a degree). The etiology of her depression is not explored. Was it her father's untimely death or a near rape she experienced just before the breakdown? Shakespeare's words ring true:
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.