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Publisher's Summary

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography

“One of the most beautiful biographies I've ever read." (Glennon Doyle, author of number-one New York Times best seller, Untamed)

The highly anticipated new biography of Sylvia Plath that focuses on her remarkable literary and intellectual achievements, while restoring the woman behind the long-held myths about her life and art.

With a wealth of never-before-accessed materials - including unpublished letters and manuscripts; court, police, and psychiatric records; and new interviews - Heather Clark brings to life the brilliant daughter of Wellesley, Massachusetts who had poetic ambition from a very young age and was an accomplished, published writer of poems and stories even before she became a star English student at Smith College in the early 1950s. 

Determined not to read Plath's work as if her every act, from childhood on, was a harbinger of her tragic fate, Clark evokes a culture in transition, in the shadow of the atom bomb and the Holocaust, as she explores Plath's world: her early relationships and determination not to become a conventional woman and wife; her conflicted ties to her well-meaning, widowed mother; her troubles at the hands of an unenlightened mental-health industry; her Cambridge years and thunderclap meeting with Ted Hughes, a marriage of true minds that would change the course of poetry in English; and much more. 

Clark's clear-eyed portraits of Hughes, his lover Assia Wevill, and other demonized players in the arena of Plath's suicide promotes a deeper understanding of her final days, with their outpouring of first-rate poems. Along with illuminating readings of the poems themselves, Clark's meticulous, compassionate research brings us closer than ever to the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a trail that still lights the way for women poets the world over.

©2020 Heather Clark (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Mesmerizing ... Comprehensive ... Stuffed with heretofore untold anecdotes that illuminate or extend our understanding of Plath’s life ... Clark is a felicitous writer and a discerning critic of Plath’s poetry ... There is no denying the book’s intellectual power and, just as important, its sheer readability.” (Daphne Merkin, The New York Times)

“A major biography that redeems Plath from the condescension of easy interpretation ... [Clark] meticulously explores Plath’s omnivorous literary interests and busy social life ... The author’s attention to specifics serves her very well in the closing pages, as she tracks how Plath’s depression, anxiety over her literary standing, despair over her failed marriage, and fear of institutionalization speeded her death even while those same forces inspired indelible, harrowing late poems.” (Kirkus Reviews starred review)

“A page-turning, meticulously researched biography of Sylvia Plath. Informed by never-before-accessed documents, Clark builds a narrative that gathers full force ... [Her] in-depth scholarship and fine writing result in a superb work that will deliver fresh revelations to Plath’s many devoted fans.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) 

What listeners say about Red Comet

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

Amazing!

I haven’t reached the end yet, but I have read every Plath biography and book I have ever been able to get my hands on, and own a few on audio as well. I just knew this one would not disappoint, since the author had access to some previously unseen/recently available-for-the-first-time materials.

The narrator is great! I like to listen at bedtime, she has a soothing, quiet, soft voice and is engaging. I knew the book would be a must-have, was HOPING the audio version would have a good narrator, and this does not disappoint.

As for the biographical material. Very thorough and in depth. I have heard many details so far that I have not heard before. So far everything is in greater detail. No Plath biography ever really lets me down, but they’re not all amazing, either. This one is incredible. Highly recommended. This book will be well regarded by Plath scholars and fans alike. If you are not deeply interested in the subject you should probably skip it because it is long and detailed and not for you. If you enjoy reading about Plath or have a scholarly interest in her life, yes! This is an incredible, well researched, detailed deep dive. Pure excellence.

16 people found this helpful

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Narration Doesn't Do It Justice

I have noticed many times Audible's propensity for choosing narration voices that might in some way mirror, or at least be supposed to mirror, the subject of biographies, and it is a practice I really wish they would stop. To have this monumental work read by a breathy, girl-ish sounding narrator, is disrespectful to the author's work and minimizes Plath herself. It's very easy to fall into dismissing Plath as an annoying little girl when listening to 45.5 hours of an annoying little voice with numerous mispronunciations. If you can get past the narration, the book is outstanding. I'll be reading the hardcopy to hopefully get the echo of the miscast narrator out of my head.

8 people found this helpful

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Simply brilliant!

A dense, highly researched biography of a poet, a girl, a woman, a mother and a wife struggling for identity, acceptance and literary acknowledgment in the pre-feminist 1950's and 1960's and in countries (even her own) where she did not really ever feel she belonged. The mother-daughter relationship is also dealt with sensitively and honestly. If you did not know much about Sylvia Plath before reading this book, you will feel you actually know her after reading it and it is hard not to get emotionally bound up in her story. A valuable guide to her, the times and the social, academic, publishing and literary culture of the period. A very long book, yes, but I, for one, could not stop reading it. I will definitely read it again.

4 people found this helpful

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One of the most remarkable biographies ever

This is a remarkable and well researched biography about the total personhood, daughter, woman, scholar, poet, wife and mother who was Sylvia Plath.

1 person found this helpful

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Literary Criticism and Biography

Sylvia Plath led a short well-documented life. What I find most interesting about Plath is the way people get obsessed with her. (I am one of them.) There are SO many Plath biographies, and let's face it - people are all working from the same source material.

It makes it really hard to have anything new to say, though this book promised to do that. Ultimately, it did deliver, but it was a long time coming. Mostly, if you've read other Plath biographies, The Bell Jar, Letters Home, and The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath you know 95% of what is in this book. What you may not know exactly, you know peripherally - because nothing changes what happened, only how some of the others documented Plath in their own letters and journals. I'm not sure what I was expecting.

If you only read one book on Plath, this would be a good one. It's comprehensive.

True confession time - I don't "get" poetry. At. All. I try so hard to read and absorb Plath's poems and they mostly go right over my head. (Though I really enjoy listening to her reading her own poems, a bunch of which are available on Spotify. Who new?) This book contained a lot of literary criticism and that is not something I enjoy. To me it's like the pretentious guy in the museum looking at a painting of a red ball and explaining to the crowd "What the artist was trying to say was life on a fixed income is hard." If I don't get it, it's my problem. Don't explain it to me. There was a lot of explaining the poetry.

This book was exceptionally well-researched, and well-written. What it was not, as per usual, was well-edited. There was a lot of repetition. Perhaps you notice that more when you listen vs. read. I feel like there were about 50 mentions to the effect of "and that's when she wrote Lady Lazurus." I know that's not the case, because I also thought she used the word "elegiac" every other word and I searched Kindle and turned out it was only 10.
But really, some critical editing was in order.

Overall, relatively easy to get through in spite of the length, new enough information available and you know, more Sylvia for those who need it. I think I'm well-sated for now.

Hardcover of this book has artwork I understand, which would be cool to have so I'll probably buy it at some point. If I'd been reading the print copy, I can tell you I would have skipped a LOT of it.

Narrator was fine. Early on I was really distracted by what I thought was a speech impediment - I heard her S's like Peter Brady saying "Porkchops and applesauce, swell" but it either got better or I stopped noticing.

1 person found this helpful

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I am in utter awe. BRILLIANT.

I wept silently many, many times. I am moved, inspired, and deeply grateful to Heather Clark for giving Silvia Plath such a beautiful, devastating biography. Her poems have all taken on a deeper meaning to me. Thank you, thank you. What a gift this was. Read this immediately.

1 person found this helpful

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Exceptional

I truly enjoyed every bit of this biography which is never boring. The narrator is pleasant and easy to listen to without causing the listener to dose off! I did catch one or two mistakes, but, in a tome like this , I felt overall she did exceptionally well. This biography is well researched, yet, reads like an interesting story. I liked the references to the other poets of the time. The ending of course is the deepest, most heart-rending part. Recommended.

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Mesmerizing

An in-depth, thorough biography and critical examination of Plath's works and influences on her writing. The author did such an honest job describing Plath's often opposing motives and behaviors.

Even though I knew how this ended, it still saddened me over the loss of such a talented artist.

My only minor criticism is that I was surprised that the author did not touch on Sylvia's relationship with her brother. Even Sylvia's relationships with acquaintances were detailed and yet the author provided no information on an apparently close sibling relationship.

A fascinating, well-researched book!

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Another bad narrator

I am about to give up on Audible books. Where do they find these inept narrators?? For the biography of a virtuoso poet who so loved the infinity variety of words and the rhythms and meter of syntax (formal and not), it's disastrous to assign a narrator who mispronounces so many words and reads poetry aloud with the awkwardness of a fourth-grader. (And, though it may be too much to ask, for a subject with German parents and a life abroad, some elementary familiarity with French and German pronunciation would be nice.)

I gave up. I cannot listen to this narrator. I'll get the physical book when it's available at the library.

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This is the next important Plath biography; performance not as strong as book

As someone who has studied Plath for a long time, I recognize this biography as a needed addition to the discourse. Despite its overemphasis of the poem “Edge” and a couple of other idiosyncrasies, Clark’s work shows the value of Plath’s poetry itself and strives to extricate the Plath story from decades of melodramatic and agenda-ridden re-telling.

I found the performance itself disappointing, with a distracting number of mispronunciations of not-super-esoteric words and sentimental or otherwise tonally off readings of some poems and other incorporated texts.