Monday, December 19, 2011

Like Chalk on a Blackboard

Two-Dozen Avocados Not Pictured
(SP top of picture)
 After Bonjour Tristesse, I've just whistled through The Bell Jar for the fourth time. I started reading SP poems some years ago and this being noted by someone at work I was pointed at The Bell Jar as being a very funny book and despite the clipped literary tones and serious events it is indeed hilarious in parts. I'm not sure I'd read it for a laugh as for the more melancholy reader it might cut close to the darker synapses of the brain with which the book has an almost-physical link because of the ECT. You might want to dismiss the whole thing as a middle-class girl's experience of mental illness - nice asylum paid for by rich benefactress - but as Esther herself states early on she does not have the experience to write a novel and so this book is basically autobiographical and I can only imagine it pretty-much describes exactly what happened.

I'd read a couple of the SP biographies before The Bell Jar and to me it seemed like a distillation of the fragments I'd already picked up. It seemed that all that was missing were the footnotes pointing the pseudonyms at the real people. So ignore the Bourgeois backdrop and concentrate on the description of Ether/Sylvia's predicament and the brilliantly-succinct way that a complex state of mind is described in a way that keeps you reading despite the over-whelming sense of ennui about the whole thing. If you are expecting obscure poetic references you will be disappointed - this is basic description born maybe of the detailed descriptions of peeling hotel rooms from the journals, a brilliant mind sharply dissecting both itself and the hypocrisy of others, all the while pointing out without judgement,  the hypocrisy of the narrator herself. There is a lot of what she ought to have said but didn't, times where she just shrugged and accepted the terrible behaviour of those around her. You can find a parallel here between the bright and breezy style of the Letters Home and the dark mazes of The Journals. You might not come away from this understanding any more of Plath's mind but you will feel that you have read a great book masquerading as Airport Fiction - A potboiler as Plath herself described it.

I know that there is a second film version of this in development at the moment. I am not hopeful that this will be any better than the 1979 version which resulted in legal actions and apparently managed to filter out any literary merit leaving the pulpiest of pulp-fiction on the screen.

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