The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 272 pages.
Read from May 27 to 30, 2015.

This book has been on my to-read list since the beginning of my university days. I recall reading some of Plath’s poetry during this time but having known so little about her at the time and not having the maturity in regards to her situation, I never found the poems as potent as they were intended to be. Without getting into too much into literary theory, I will state that I do believe that with some pieces of literature it is important to know the history of the author and how their history can intentionally be placed into their work. I believe that Plath’s work fits for this circumstance.

For those that don’t know, Sylvia Plath was an American writer who was born in 1932. Her father died when she was just a girl, an event that would change Plath and affect her writing substantially in the future. Plath attended college and was a promising student with top marks. She was offered a guest editing position at a top women’s magazine but it was not what Plath hoped it would be and this is when her mental health issues started to show. She survived her first suicide attempt after overdosing on her mother’s sleeping pills and crawling into a hole outside. She was hospitalized and given psychiatric treatment which, at the time, included insulin shots and electric shock treatment. Plath seemed to make a decent recovery after 6 months in treatment and returned to college. It was here where she meets her future husband, Ted Hughes, who ends up becoming a famous and notable English writer.  During their marriage she gave birth to two children and had one miscarriage, an event that also presents itself in her writing. Plath was also in a car accident, which was likely another suicide attempt. Shortly after, Plath and Hughes separated after Plath discovered that Hughes was having an affair. After the separation is when Plath wrote some of her most important pieces, but sadly she committed her final act of suicide and died on February 11, 1963, just days after being prescribed anti-depressants. Plath died of carbon monoxide poisoning. She barricaded herself in the kitchen and placed her head inside the oven with the gas turned on.

Plath’s life was tumultuous and tragic and The Bell Jar is a semi-biographical story that reflects the beginning of Plath’s life and illness before she meets Hughes.

Esther Greenwood is a young, smart and ambitious woman who has just started the beginning, of what she is hoping to be a prominent and promising career in writing. She has been awarded the opportunity to intern at a popular women’s fashion magazine in New York, which is a dream come true for Esther. However, Esther slowly watches her ambitions drain away as an unstoppable depression begins to take over. As her ambition fades and the depression takes its toll, so does her once in a lifetime chance of making it in New York, in which, at this point Esther is so numb with depression she nearly doesn’t care. She almost marries, she is hospitalized and nearly dies. The ending does give some hope that perhaps there is still a chance for her.

The events Esther lives through are nearly identical to the ones Plath went through herself. Esther is pragmatic and brave. Esther wanted something more for herself so she is brutally honest about aspects of relationships and her refusal of a what would have appeared to be a perfect match for marriage. She is also honest with her depression, while not naming her condition, Esther describes perfectly what it feels like consumed by depression:

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

“…because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

“I couldn’t see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.”

Even though it was written long before I was born, this book will always be timeless for its honesty with depression and mental health and particularly because it comes from the perspective of a woman. Even some of the social issues in this book are still relevant for women. Esther’s thinking on marriage was very forward for its day and age:

“So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state.”

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

I wonder if these were Plath’s own views and what changed her mind later in life to marry Hughes? There are many aspects in the book where Esther, despite protesting that she will never marry, still indicates that she wants it all: love, a family, but also her freedom. However she knows that she cannot have it all. Perhaps these are the same thoughts that brought Plath to succumb to her own marriage?

Plath’s short life feels like a story unfinished, which also contributes to her still present popularity. Feminists have taken her under their wing and are devoted to her prose and the continuation of her legacy. It makes me curious to what kind of woman Plath would be now and what she would have become. This book has made a lasting impression on me and is a hugely important book for the continuation and understanding of mental health issues.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

 

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4/5 stars.
Read from February 25 to March 05, 2013.
Paperback, 239 pages.

Throwback review to when I read Warm Bodies. Yes, the book is exceptional and better than the movie.


Confession: This is my first zombie related novel and if the rest of the zombie plotted books are like this one, then I need to read more.

I feared for the worst with that novel; that it would be cliché and that the plot would come off as ridiculous. I mean, really? A zombie romance? I thought to myself that there was no way that this could go well but Marion, happily, proved me wrong. The plot is gruesome, elegant and highly entertaining.

R is just zombie who is tired of his zombie life. He seems to process and think a bit more than his fellow zombie comrades. After saving a young woman named Julie, things begin to drastically change for R. His dead heart seems to start to feel again. Terrified Julie doesn’t know what to make of this strange zombie that is protecting her instead of eating her but the situation makes her reevaluate the outbreak and how the small groups of remaining humans are currently dealing with the zombie situation. Both Julie and R have no idea just how much their interactions will change things forever.

Marion has given a whole new definition to the idea of zombies and I like that. Zombies are always portrayed in movies and TV as lifeless beings that have lost all touch with anything that ever made them human. The idea that there is still something worth saving is inspirational and adds a whole different dynamic to how zombies could be written and described. I think that Marion took a lot of risks writing on a genre that is so insanely popular right now. He gave it his own innovative spin and I would say that the risk has definitely paid off. I hope to see the movie now that I have finished the book.

For me, the defining points in this novel are ***SPOILER***how the zombies not only eat brains to feed themselves but to relive the memories of the person that they’re eating because it makes them feel, well, alive. The integration of Perry’s thoughts and memories with R’s and how deeply he was affected by them (and ultimately how it changed him) ***END SPOILER*** were really well done and were some of my favourite chapters in this novel. Also, Marion answered some of the questions that other zombie works skim over: he went into detail about how the zombies collaborated, how their bodies and brains worked and that they were capable of thought.

The scene that shook me the most in this novel has to be ***SPOILER*** near the end when Julie and R are trying to revolutionize change; the last encounter that they have with Juile’s dad… when he just gave up after seeing Julie side with R and then just let that lead Boney devour him without fighting back. The emotional states of all the characters were so well described and detailed that I believed this is how a zombie invasion would actually feel like. It was heart wrenching to envision this scene. Juile, losing both of her parents because they inevitably gave up and could not go on after fighting for this long against all odds. Julie’s resilience and push to strive for more and keep hope was impressive all considering what humanity and herself had faced. Her hope outlasted in the end to bring around a cure with the help of R ***END SPOILER***. ***ADDITION*** Having now seen the movie, I was both relieved and disappointed that they changed this ending with film.***

Marion does have a prequel to this novel which focuses on Julie, Perry and Nora’s story and I’m currently trying to get my hands on a copy. It’s called The New Hunger.

I would highly recommend this novel for anyone looking for something different.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 272 pages.
Read from April 10 to 18, 2015.

I have successfully read all 3 of Gillian Flynn’s popular novels. At then end of this review I will rank the three of them based on which of the three I like best.

Camille is a small time reporter in Chicago, with the hopes of hitting it big time. She is ambitious, blunt and abrasive, all great qualities for a reporter. However, she throws herself into work and into drink to stop from reminding herself of her estranged childhood and trauma. You start notice that Camille is plagued with scars of self-mutilation and her body is covered in words that she has carved into her own body. This behavior began in her teenage years and while she has since stopped cutting, she begins to reminisce when she is asked to report on the murders of some children back in her hometown, Wind Gap, a place she hasn’t been back to visit in eight years.  When Camille was a preteen, she lost her sister Marion, to a strange illness. Marion was her mother’s favorite and Camille never received the same attention or love the way her sister did. If anything, her mother had more disdain for her in that she wasn’t a feminine and and well-to-do little girl like Marion. Camille was always headstrong and never did what she was told and perhaps some of her mother’s disdain for her came from the fact that her father did not stick around. Her mother, Adora, is cold, proper, re-married and still living in the Victorian home that Camille grew up in. Camille’s mother has another child in her new marriage to dote on, Camille’s half-sister Amma, who is only thirteen. Amma seems to be the doting daughter that Amma always wanted but she is a vicious but smart young girl.  At least, Camille and Amma have one thing in common, they are both always living in the shadow of the dead Marion. Wind Gap is the type of town Camille was always anxious to get out of, a town where everyone knows everyone’s business and relationships are superficial so returning home, even temporarily was exceptionally difficult for Camille.

Camille learns that two young girls went missing and were found murdered, but something doesn’t quite add up as both of the young victims had all of their teeth removed and were unmolested.   She is able to get some extra information by liaising with a young and good looking FBI agent, Richard. Slowly, Camille starts to open herself up and begins a sexual relationship with Richard, however always fearing that he will reject her for her scars, she also starts to get quite close to Amma. This closeness unfortunately is going to blow the whole murder case wide open and Camille will learn things that she wished she had not.

It was Camille that made this novel for me. While I’ve never self-mutilated I felt drawn in to her scars and her desire to cover them and hide. It reminded me of my worst years with dermatillomania.  I just felt like I completely understood Camille and could relate to her entirely regardless of our different circumstances. I liked her tough approach to her life and even how she dealt with it. I appreciated that she had vulnerable moments in the book despite her facade. What Camille has lived through, what she has done to herself and what her family continues to do her to her is beyond tragic. She is not a typical protagonist by any means and I love her for it. I imagine that this novel made some people uncomfortable with its content. Here is Camille who is clearly a traumatized adult and hides nothing  from the reader in terms of her desire to cut words into herself, then Amma’s behavior is pretty hard to stomach at times,  let alone the way the two young girls in this small town were murdered, which, is why I love this plot. It’s unwholesome, brutal and honest. Flynn is never afraid to shed light into the darker areas of life and show that not all stories have a happy endings.

Alright, in terms of Flynn’s novels, here is how I would rank them:

1) Dark Places

2) Sharp Objects

3) Gone Girl 

I’ll just say this, it’s apparent that Gone Girl  was the favourite for most people, it was also the one made into a movie,  perhaps because more people felt they could relate to the crazy spouse?  I do know know that the other two books are a lot darker. Personally, I feel that Gone Girl is lacking. I appreciate the wit it took to create the plot but I felt it didn’t have the same dark and mysterious appeal as the other two novels. I mean, the crazy spouse thing has been in a lot of mystery novels, though not quite the same way Flynn does it, so I can appreciate that, but I just found that I never came to like the main characters in Gone Girl. I remember not initially liking Libby in Dark Places but I found as a reader, I grew with her through the story. Libby didn’t even like herself in the beginning as the only thing she defined herself by was the horrible murders that happened to her family. I was hoping that I would eventually come to like the couple in Gone Girl and I never did so inevitably I didn’t care what happened to these awful people, regardless of the twisted circumstances they found themselves in. Sharp Objects brought back the same obscure darkness I came to love in Dark Places.