The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Haunting. Despite having been diagnosed with depression for many years, I never really identified as having the illness until I read this. Although harrowing, there is some sad reassurance in hearing what felt like such personal thoughts shared by others.  You hear all the time about how we’re a ‘Prozac Nation’ and there are ‘more people in the UK on antidepressants than voted in the X-Factor’. But reading a real, personal account makes it a much more tangible truth.

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

TBJ certainly wasn’t an easy read, but I really appreciated its honesty. Part of me dreaded a self-indulgent trip through artist-angst and melodramatic melancholia. It wasn’t that at all.

What is clever about the book is that you never really get to know or understand any of the other characters. They seem fleeting and two-dimensional. This reflects the fact that, for a depressive, everyone outside of one’s self becomes a bit of a background blur, a dizzying extraneous concern that is dissociated from for requiring too much effort to empathise or interact with.

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my eyes and all is born again.”

I was left with an uncomfortable, dissatisfying feeling that a lot of the interactions were superfluous and uninteresting. But I think that was the point.

It also led me to learn about different types of ‘shock therapy’ (I went on a bit of a Wiki-trawl). It’s unfathomable (shocking…) to read about the sort of practices that became accepted without any real evidence of their efficacy. I guess it’s interesting, from a scientific viewpoint, to see what sort of effect these treatments might have, if my own curiosity wasn’t aroused I wouldn’t have looked into it.  But it sickens me, that I feel that way, especially when I imagine seeing someone I love put through it.


I have since found myself looking up SP’s poetry and found some really thought-provoking stuff. Particularly ‘Daddy’, which is layered with meaning and flaunts some quite controversial themes. I’m glad I read this one.

4.5 Stars. I’d have to have enjoyed the experience more for it to merit the fifth!

Favourite quote:

“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.”

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