This book was borrowed to me by my good friend CMS. I was a little reluctant to read it, because I thought it would pretty depressing. And it was, but not in an awful way. Just sad. I don't know much about Sylvia Plath, but I did know she suffered from mental illness and killed herself and I was pretty sure The Bell Jar told her story, or at least mirrored her real life.
The Bell Jar tells the story of Esther, a college student and talented writer who receives a great opportunity to intern at a big magazine in 1950s NYC. During that summer Esther's mental illness begins, and the story then follows Esther back home and eventually to a mental hospital. (From the mini biography in the back of the book and from other sources I've read, this is pretty much what happened to Plath.)
The writing is fairly good, but parts of the New York story line dragged for me. For me, the story picks up more when she really starts to falter mentally. Which is weird; why, when I knew it would be depressing and when I was actually sad reading the book, would it "pick up" for me when the character's at her worst? I feel awful for this woman (Esther, Sylvia, whomever). How lonely must it have been?
The most important thing about the book, though, is it shines light on mental illness and health care, back then and in general. And to me, this is interesting to think about. There has always been mental illness. Since the dawn of time. And yet still, there's a stigma. Back then, the electroshock treatments, the lobotomies - it's all incredibly disturbing. How could doctors really think they were doing the right thing? But then, perhaps people will look back at our current medical methods and question just what the heck we were doing with some of our therapies? But anyway, people have always, always suffered with depression in all forms. And you always have the people who just want them "to get over it." There will always be those of us who don't quite understand, but hopefully more and more of us learn empathy and sympathy instead of denial and frustration.
For another wonderful take on this book, see Bending Bookshelf.