The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful but slowly going under - maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.
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The audio books I get tend to be either 1) scifi or 2) things for my husband and me to listen to on long road trips--humor or history
An amazing book for so very many reasons, but the two things that made the biggest impression on me were the beautiful writing and the commentary on the place of women in society.
The book is simply chock-full of descriptions, similes and metaphors that are tiny poems hidden in plain view. Many of these descriptions had to do with the life of the mind, as here:
“I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next day had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue.”
“Maybe forgetfulness, like a kind snow, should numb and cover them. But they were a part of me. They were my landscape.”
But many of them had to do with suicide, as here:
“But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn't do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn't in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get.”
Heart-wrenching as those passages were, the parts that really spoke to me were the ones where Plath talked about marriage, childbirth, and other observations about the lot of women in the world. Below are a few passages that I found particularly insightful:
“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”
“And I knew that in spite of all the roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showered on a woman before he married her, what he secretly wanted when the wedding service ended was for her to flatten out underneath his feet like Mrs. Willard's kitchen mat...I also remembered Buddy Willard saying in a sinister, knowing way that after I had children I would feel differently, I wouldn't want to write poems any more. So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about numb as a slave in some private, totalitarian state.”
“I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a woman in terrible pain, obviously feeling every bit of it or she wouldn't groan like that, and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor or pain was waiting to open up and shut her in again.”
[I listened to this as an audio book performed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Not only did she do a superb job, but also the audio book contained a short biography of Plath at the end that greatly enhanced my appreciation of the book]
Maggie Gyllenhaal captures the depressed essence of Sylvia Plath in her stellar performance of The Bell Jar. The story yields what seems to be a raw and deeply personal account of a person's gradual slip into mental illness and the struggle to break free of its grasp and the accompanying social stigma. Reading this book you feel as though you are inside the mind of a "crazy" person, all the while finding out how rational - and even sane - crazy can be.
SciFi/Fantasy and Classics to History, Adventure and Memoirs to Social Commentary—I love and listen to it all!
I spent a year and a half, sitting in a rocking chair, reading the Harry Potter books over and over again, trying not to scream, trying not to cry, with something like sandpaper rasping the inside of my skull to pulp. Shock treatments were advised. So I can totally relate to Esther's journey in Sylvia Plath's towering achievement in "The Bell Jar," which has such life breathed into it by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The first part is a series of experiences and memories Esther has, some quirky, some devastating, all deeply-felt that lead to her life coming apart piece by piece, as though a jigsaw puzzle was losing its parts but you can barely notice it with all that's going on in her heart and in her head. After a particularly violent scene, however, and after finishing with a stint in New York and going home, she really falls apart.
Plath writes some vivid and heart-felt prose here. Esther can't sleep, and her decline shows she loses even the ability to write (yes, in the grand sense: No, no more poetry for Esther, but even in the more prosaic sense: She can't even form the letters to write a sentence).
And this is where maybe dying isn't sought so much as the desperate desire to be dead. It's a tough, tough listen but Gyllenhaal knows the material backwards/forwards/sideways, you name it, and she reads with love, tenderness, bitterness, and later, when Esther is getting help, scorn.
This is a great listen. I didn't know you could get it for free. But I'm glad I'll have it forever in my Library because it's a Five-Star listen, a keeper for sure. Definitely worth the time, and I certainly don't regret the credit.
Maggie Gyllenhaal was the best choice to narrate this wonderful classic. Her smooth yet demanding voice made me not want to stop listening. If you loved this book in print you will love listening to Maggie tell you the story as well
The unexpected chuckles it gave me due to the point of view and opinions of the main character
There is such a cynicism, derision, yet innocence in the voice of Maggie Gyllenhaal as she narrates this story. It fits perfectly the emotions that are meant to be conveyed to the listener.
Only half-way through this book, but did not expect to enjoy it like I am. I have never read anything by Sylvia Plath though I have read about her short-lived life, but I did not expect the book to be as dark as it is. If you're looking for a mood lifter, this is not it.
By the end of the day, may you have learned something, laughed, and gotten laid.
Maggie Gyllenhall adds color to this narrative that I don't think anyone else could have. It's already painfully well written, and her voice brings the mental anguish, the fog, the melancholy wonder to life. I got goosebumps.
I haven't been to exactly these places in my head but I have been close enough , often enough, that some parts of this astounding work were almost too uncomfortable to listen to.
I expected the sort of florid and meandering poetry of too many of the explorations of "feelings". This is full of the tight prose and focused language of "mind". Even if all you are interested in is the English language you owe yourself this listen.
And if your interested in how the English language should be read out loud, Maggie Gyllenhaal may be one of its best exponents. She reads with rare clarity and inflection. If she doesn't love this book she certainly manages to act out enjoyment, turning the narration from a mechanical to an artistic activity.
It is beautiful, frightening and technically brilliant. You should listen to it now.
Beautiful but painful story. Everyone should experience this amazing piece of literature which is also autobiographical. Narration is total perfection.
a young woman journalist on assignment in New York. everything is sardonically depressing in the eyes and mind of the protagonist. overall a very depressing tale that meanders along seemingly without much more purpose than the passage of time.
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