This past summer, I stumbled upon a slim little novel during an American chain bookstore’s going out of business sale. It was only discounted a few dollars, but I bought it anyhow, seduced by the awesome cover.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath came home with me that night and sat on my bookshelf for a week or so. When I decided to open it up, I knew that the novel would be a little bit depressing to say the least, from what my pop culture knowledge of Plath had taught me about the body of her work. But The Bell Jar fit with how I had been feeling last summer in a way that rarely happens with novels I’m reading for the first time. The novel and I, sort of, gelled. I was a little blue, maybe feeling like a junior partner only being kept around because she makes the place a little prettier (on a good day), feeling useless, underappreciated and well, fated to end up, somewhere I didn’t feel like I should be.
I haven’t been much of a poetry fan (changing in 2012! more info soon) and have avidly avoided it for years and years. I knew that this was Plath’s only novel and that she had committed suicide shortly after the novel’s publication. This, and this lovely Faber Firsts edition of the novel, convinced me that The Bell Jar was the way to experience Plath without having to enter the world of poetry.
Without saying too much, the voice of the novel seemed so very real and compelling; and I knew something terrible was going to happen in this world of internships, fashion magazines, and parties. The world of the novel was dated–it is clearly not 2011/12–but I guess I felt like I understood what was happening to Esther and her search for something more career-wise. I empathized with Esther. And I sort of envied her (to an extend).
Now that I’m reflecting on my 2011 reading, I can say that The Bell Jar struck a chord with me, in a way that no other novel has so far this year. It was sort of talking to me.
I’m even considering using it in my next Introduction to Literature class. But maybe not. I think I like the novel far too much to subject myself to what I’m sure will be the reaction of my Intro to Lit students! I’m not sure I want to look at The Bell Jar with the eyes of a teacher. Instead, I think I’ll re-read it in 2012, with a writer’s eye.
If you haven’t read The Bell Jar or haven’t read it in a long while, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy from your local library and give it a chance.
Happy New Year! I’m wishing you the best in life and in reading!
A close 2nd for 2011: Charles Portis’s True Grit, reviewed here.