Friday, July 11, 2014

Classics Spin: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


The most recent Classics Club Spin dealt me The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Our task was to read and review the chosen book by July 7. Surprisingly, I finished this novel toward the end of May. Unsurprisingly, I'm still late posting my thoughts.

Originally published in 1963, The Bell Jar struck me as very readable and insightful, yet painful and tragic. One can't help but wonder exactly where autobiographical facts end and fictional details begin. I appreciated the seemingly accurate, honest portrayal of slipping into a deep depression, but overall this was not an especially enjoyable or memorable reading experience. Plath's summer in NYC was the most interesting aspect of the novel for me. I might have preferred reading  Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953  by Elizabeth Winder.

A quick glance at goodreads ratings and blogger reviews tells me that The Bell Jar is a well-loved classic. Could being over 50 at the initial reading have influenced my reaction? This seems like a book I would have loved in my 20's and possibly even into my 30's. Maybe I should chalk it up to the "Catcher in the Rye effect"...  a book many young adults love, but which loses its luster for some middle-aged readers.

Bottom line - I wish I'd read The Bell Jar in my 20's. Perhaps it doesn't shine quite as brilliantly for the over-50 set.

My rating:



30 comments:

  1. I've been wanting to read this ever since I read Pain, Parties, Work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy - This one definitely made me curious about Pain, Parties, Work. Hope I can make time for it soon.

      Delete
  2. I think you're right that how much you like this book depends on when you read it - I first read it in my late teens and loved it. I'm rereading it for the classics club soon, it'll be interesting to see if I like it as much at 28.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sam - I'll be curious to hear what you think of it now.... really wish I'd read it sooner.

      Delete
  3. I've felt that way about a few books (Catcher in the Rye and Kerouac for sure.) I think some books just work better when you're young. I did read this one in college, so it clicked, but I don't know if I would feel the same now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melissa - I've never read Kerouac and after this experience, am afraid I never will.

      Delete
  4. It's entirely possible that you'd feel different if you'd read it earlier, or, perhaps, in the larger context of Plath's overall work. For me, it's a bittersweet read--a flawed first novel, but full of potential that went unrealized because she killed herself so young. She'd hit her stride in poetry, but not yet in fiction. Some of her late essays are beautiful too, and it's hard to think about what all she might have accomplished if she'd lived longer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amy - I like Plath's poetry, but have not read any of her essays....now I'm curious.

      Delete
  5. I totally agree with you. I read this in my 20s and it resonated much more strongly with me. I read it again a few months ago (I am now in my 30s) and while I appreciated that I was reading about some real things that Sylvia Plath was feeling, my feelings on the book were..meh.

    And I really want to read Pain, Parties, Work. You just reminded me of it - I think I will request from the library right now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Quixotic Magpie - Can't wait to hear what you think! I think I'll listen to Pain, Parties, Work.

      Delete
  6. I keep saying that I NEED to read this...at 33 am I too late? ;) I think I might do better with a psuedoautobiography of a mom to young kids.

    I did really enjoy Pain, Parties, Work and I'm guessing you'd appreciate it with just having read The Bell Jar. The audio by Xe Sands is particularly good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trish - I'd be interested in your reaction to this one, especially with Pain, Parties, Work fresh in your mind. Will take your advice and listen... Xe Sands is an excellent narrator!

      Delete
  7. You know, I'm not sure if I have read this, or if I'm confusing it with I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Not sure I would go back to it now, unless you recommend it, but I did notice Pain, Parties, Work and thought it sounded intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Audrey - I'd certainly recommend giving this a pass now, but Pain, Parties, Work certainly sounds interesting.

      Delete
  8. I read it for book club and because I felt that as a reader, I should...but I would never say I loved it. It was really depressing and not a likable book really.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ti - Exactly. I'm glad to have finally read it, but not a great experience...

      Delete
  9. I agree with you and many of the above comments. I read Catcher in the Rye in my late 30's or maybe 40's and it was completely lost on me. I love re-reading classics from high school and first time reading the ones that I missed back then. The Bell Jar has always been on my list... but maybe not now. Your reviews have never steered me wrong!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lilea - Aww, thanks. I tried Catcher in the Rye again in my late 30's or 40's and found it insufferable, but The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, and a few others have stood the test of time. Surprisingly, I had a much greater appreciation of The Old Man and the Sea at 50.

      There are still others I want to reread - The Grapes of Wrath, The Winter of Our Discontent, Tender is the Night, Look Homeward Angel... not enough hours in the day!

      Delete
  10. I read this one in '08, at 36 and liked it more than you did, but didn't love it. It was depressing for sure. If I read it at this point in my life I'd probably hate it :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stacy - LOL! This is NOT a book to read when you're dealing with a preschooler...

      Delete
  11. I read this in my late forties when I had just recovered from a major depression, so it clicked with me then.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Debbie - I think under those circumstances, it may have had more of an impact on me, too.

      Delete
  12. Like Audrey, I'm not sure if I've actually read this - it would have been in high school, I think. I wish I'd kept a reading journal then like I do now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa - I've often wished that, too...there are so many books I've read about and forgotten.

      Delete
  13. This is on my list of books I feel like I should have read but never did. From the sound of your review and the comments I think I'll read Pain, Parties, Work and go from there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katherine - Pain, Parties, Work will probably be more to my liking, but I'm glad to have read The Bell Jar. It's a book I've always felt I should read, too.

      Delete
  14. Oh, maybe I've left this one too late to tackle too.
    Thanks for your honest review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brona - Maybe it won't be the case for you, but I'm quite certain I would have appreciated this much more 20 years ago...

      Delete
  15. Now that I've finished it myself, I could finally read your post on it!

    >One can't help but wonder exactly where autobiographical facts end and fictional details begin.

    I found myself wondering about this constantly--even going so far as to try searching the internet for clues. I guess I came away thinking she pretty much wrote what happened...from her point of view. A biographer would probably reconstruct things a bit differently, but I got the feeling she was trying to be honest.

    Pain, Parties, Work is on my TBR list, but I need a break before diving into Plath's life again. Very sad and draining...as I knew it would be and why I avoided it when I was young and impressionable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JaneGS - I was going to dive right into Pain, Parties, Work, but it turns out I need a little break, too. Maybe this winter...

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails