I started reading "The Bell Jar" not knowing a whole lot about Sylvia Plath other than some of her poetry and her famous suicide in her early 30's. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. From the book's cover:
"The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood, who wins a dream assignment as a junior editor on a major women's magazine and finds herself in the midst of a psychological nightmare. Under the pressure of work and of her increasingly strained relationships with her mother and her college boyfriend, she has a mental breakdown. The reader is drawn intensely into Esther's growing insanity and inevitable collapse. The book is a harrowing reflection of Sylvia Plath's own breakdown and suicide attempt when she was 20 years old."
The story seems to be both a tragedy and finally a triumph for Esther Greenwood. The reader follows her through her fall into a mental breakdown and back up again into her recovery. I kept thinking I couldn't believe this book was written and published in the early 60's as it reads as well as anything written today. Some of the themes that Plath tackles, especially the role of women in the 1950's, must have been groundbreaking at the time.
"The Bell Jar was originally published in England in 1963 under a pseudonym, but Plath's family would not allow it to appear in the United States until 1971, when it became a national best seller. Upon its U.S. publication, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times said the novel is 'not only the moving story of Esther Greenwood's psychic suffering, but a metaphor of an entire era suffocating under a bell jar.' Time has called it 'a marvelously unself-conscious confessional novel dashed off before such documents were in vogue.' And, more recently, The Bell Jar has been embraced as a painful statement about what happens to women's aspirations in a society that refuses to take them seriously."
It's unfortunate that Plath died at such an early age with this being her only novel. Highly recommended, read this book.