After she saw the kind of reading material I reviewed here on my blog during December, my sister decided it was about time I read something of a better literary quality, and lent me "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath.
The wikipedia entry about this book, the only novel by the author (she was a poet first and foremost), says that the story is semi-autobiographical and mirrors Plath's own experience with clinical depression and the kind of health care mentally ill patients received in those days.
"The Bell Jar" starts in the summer of 1953, when 19-year-old Esther Greenwood is on an internship at a fashionable New York magazine. But what she expects to be the time of her life turns into the beginning of her problems with herself and the world around her, eventually leading to a suicide attempt after she returns home and a long stay in various mental health institutions.
I do not want to tell too much of those events, or the effects her depression has on her relationships with her family and friends, and I am not going to reveal how the book ends, but I recommend "The Bell Jar" to anyone who appreciates the telling of a dramatic story without the need to recurr to overly dramatic language.
For me, depression has always been something I found hard to understand, and still do after having read this book. On the surface, Esther (or Sylvia Plath in real life) has many more reasons for happiness than for the paralyzing sad numbness she feels. Yes, her father died when she was a little girl; she does not really love the young man who sees himself as her fiancé, and she is not accepted for a writing course she wanted to attend. But she has a mother who loves her, friends who are interested in her well-being, is a reasonably good-looking, physically healthy young woman with no hard-pressing financial worries and a bright mind which can lead her to a fulfilling university career and beyond.
Don't we all have both good and bad things happening to us in our lives? How come some people plunge into black depths by something others get through with more strength they would have believed themselves to have previously? Why are some of us more resilient than others?
Although clinical depression has been scientifically examined for a long time now, and continues to be at the centre of attention for many great minds, it remains a puzzle to me. Can it really all be down to a chemical imbalance in the brain?
Thankfully (and there are so many things I am thankful for in my everyday life!), I was never given to depression myself. Maybe that is the advantage of being so shallow.
Anyway, "The Bell Jar" was a good read, and I am sorry for the author and her loved ones: Sylvia Plath commited suicide mere weeks after it was first published in the UK.