Cairo’s Bibliomane: The Bell Jar

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By Menna Fahmi

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Hello Cairenes! This week I decided to go back in time a bit and read something written in a different time, about a different time. So I decided on Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”.

The book was first published in 1963 under a pseudonym “Victoria Lucas”. The book is narrated by Esther Greenwood, a college student from the suburbs of Boston. Esther starts telling her story during her internship under the Editor Jay Cee in one of New York city’s big magazines at the time. As Esther narrates bits and pieces of her internship, you start getting the feeling that with all the glamour around her, she is somehow in her own bubble; not enjoying it to the fullest.

As the internship comes to an end, she goes back to her small town, where her mother lives. From the very first moment you feel the tension between her and her mother. Esther battles with her mother who wants her to learn the same dead end job, with her boyfriend who is living his life; sleeping around and expecting Esther to be the loyal cute wife that society at that time expected all women to be. But she had one thing to look forward to, a writing course she has been waiting to get accepted in, where she can spend the rest of her summer.

After Esther’s rejection, everything went downhill from there. She was unable to sleep and tried to write a novel but failed. She described her mental state as being trapped under a bell jar. Her mother forces her to see a psychiatrist, who uses electroconvulsive therapy to treat her and she decided to never go back.

But as her state worsens and with a suicide attempt, psychotherapy is no longer an option. The rest of the book is an incredible portrayal of her journey to therapy and to finding her way back in life.

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Book Cover

Let me tell you, this is no easy read. It takes time and a lot of thinking. It is also not the kind of book that captures you instantly making it hard to drop. You better have a huge mug of coffee or chocolate by your side, whatever floats your boat, as you go through it. But putting the mental energy aside, this book was incredible. It is definitely one of a kind. It was literally like being in the mind of a clinical depression patient.

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Sylvia Plath

Looking into Sylvia Plath’s life and death, I discovered that she herself suffered from depression leading to her suicide only one month after the book was first published in the UK. Many of the events that took place and the characters were actually based on Plath’s life. So knowing that the book was actually the result of her own struggle made it even more incredible to me. It’s more than just a well-written novel, it is an experience by itself. You get to experience the struggle of psychological disorders in the 1950’s and, even better, the struggle of feminism at the time.

It is books like this that remind me of why I love literature so much. You get to live multiple lives in the comfort of your own bed and this book made me live in a place I am grateful I’d never see in real life, or so I think.

I am looking into reading more about Sylvia Plath and her life. I am so intrigued to know about the person that left behind this piece of art.

I recommend this book if you’re looking for a different reading experience. It’s a book I will probably read again multiple of times. I’d give it 4/5.

The book is available at Diwan Bookstore.

What do you think?

Have you read “The Bell Jar” yet? Let us know what you think if you did. Also, what other books would you like a review of? Tell us in the comments.

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