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Publisher's Summary

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.

©1971 Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. Copyright renewed 1998 (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Story

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Beautifully written, brilliantly performed.

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.

67 of 73 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A must-read for every woman

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]

89 of 98 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 02-03-16

When Dying is Hard But Living is Harder

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.

86 of 98 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A classic done right

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

25 of 30 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Heartbreaking, yet inspirational

The story itself was excellent. The narration could have been better, but didn't interfere with the story. What DID interfere, in my opinion, was the music in between each chapter. I found it annoying and felt that it interfered greatly with the flow of the story.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Powerful

I read this in high school and the story has stayed with me. A powerful depiction of depression. Maggie Gyllenthaal did a wonderful performance.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Sad story

What about Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance did you like?

She did an incredible job capturing the depressed mood of the character.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment. Did not think this was as good as the reviews.

Any additional comments?

Can do without the music which seemed to come on at odd times. Very distracting for me.

13 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing Listen

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.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

DIdn't know what to expect

What made the experience of listening to The Bell Jar the most enjoyable?

The unexpected chuckles it gave me due to the point of view and opinions of the main character

What about Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance did you like?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

18 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Incredible performance of a haunting story

This Audible performance must be one of the best ones out there. The story itself is dark, and her warped way of seeing the world through the "bell jar" is scarily relatable at times. The language and the descriptions she uses are beautiful, sometimes beautifully painful. And the performer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, is a true artist of the genre. She brings out things in this book that I would've never caught on a first read. She makes all the dark, sarcastic, sad, sublime and harrowing aspects of this book come to life. As somebody who has dealt with powerful and debilitating thoughts and perceptions, listening to this book was a profound experience for me.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful