The Bell Jar is a classic, and classics… well, lots and lots and lots has already been said about them. I find it difficult to write about them.
There are two things that I found striking about this book. First, the visceral-ness of Esther’s (the main character’s) depression. She is depressed and Plath, who committed suicide, communicates that very effectively. Second, and in marked contrast to the downer of the depression is the absurdity of so much of the actual plot of the book: food poisoning an entire room, at least one failed deflowering of the main character, and the ridiculousness of Esther’s quasi-fiancé Buddy
In fact, these two things play off each other very well. Esther’s depression highlights the surrealism of the plot and the surrealism of the actions throws into relief just how far gone Esther is. She should be having very emotional reactions to everything that’s happening. But all the action is presented very flatly. It’s very effective.
I would recommend The Bell Jar very much. It’s short but effective.
It seems a waste to review a book published in 1991, one that cemented the name of an entire generation in place. And yet, here I go.
Generation X is both timeless (e.g. diagnosing all kinds of late capitalism problems like the pain of not having health insurance, the despair at a lack of a coherent future, the inevitability that we’re killing the planet) and very, very much of its time (e.g. it centers mainly white men and revolves around the idea that somehow falling into depression and doing your best to leave late capitalism behind will somehow fix the problems inherent to late capitalism).
I have an incredible soft spot for this book. It is problematic and dropping out of society just means that those who are left can run it into the ground (a thing that the book does passingly comment on); but it reminds me so solidly of a time when I was young, when I was trying to figure out who I was, of a time before the internet when it was so much easier to be aimless. I can’t not love it.
The Midnight Disease was fascinating, and I think I’ve recommended it to everyone I’ve seen in person since I finished it.
Alice Flaherty is a neurologist. She also went a little mad. She had a miscarriage and ended up being hypergraphic – which means she couldn’t stop writing. She would wake up at 5am and write, write over her lunch break, write when stopped at stoplights. It wasn’t healthy.
But because she’s a neurologist, you both get her memoir of her madness and also a tour of what’s going on in the brain and the other relevant literature for hypergraphia and its related diseases – especially epilepsy and bipolar disorder.
Apparently Dostoyevsky had hypergraphia; Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written in 6 days (Robert Louis Stevenson may have been hypergraphic, but he was also high on cocaine); and Vincent Van Gogh could neither stop writing nor stop painting.