Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I do not remember reading much of Sylvia Plath’s poetry – She is known more for her poems than her prose – and then the way she died. This is the only novel which she published during her lifetime.

About her writing – Very involved, compelling, drawing you in. This is one of those books where my hypothesis that for the first 20%, you need to work on the book and then, the book works on you stays disproved. In this book – from the first page onwards, the prose draws you in. I guess, poets have a much better command over the language, the scene, the emotion – and in few words, they convey things and feelings which a routine author will take many pages for.

Her writing is beautiful. When I started reading it – I could identify a wee bit with the protagonist – just a wee bit. Then the lady’s life spirals downwards into depression and then the book becomes a treatise on suicide or contemplating ways of suicide, then it translates into an inside out view on asylums and mental homes and the inside out view on the mind of a mentally deranged person – call it a person who has given up on life, because there is no other differentiating feature apart from that – between the normal and the demented, its just the will and the willingness to stay occupied and play upto the idiosyncrasies of life. The normal has it, the demented thinks it is fruitless. Who is right? – Who is to decide?

What I liked most in the book? Her analogy of her life as a fig tree – where different figs represent different things that she wishes to do with her life – one fig about her turning into a poet and a professor, another fig – going to Europe and studying further, one fig – to get married and have children, another one – to stay unmarried, one more fig – to live the NY life of a fashion writer. The point being, she is sitting under this fig tree, thinking of which fig to eat- she thinks hard because choosing one fig is precluding all the other figs so she should be careful. All are mutually exclusive events. She calls herself neurotic because she wants all these figs at the same time. She dreams that she is still trying to choose while the figs dry one by one, shrivel up, darken and fall down.

A poet writing prose is a treat in terms of metaphors, articulation, capturing the moment – they are so precise and they give you a full, sumptuous meal of emotions on so few words. Good part is that the book ends at a slightly hopeful note, otherwise it would have been difficult to bear.

This one is my holiday purchase, unkindled. Finished in one day. Am on to Herta Muller’s Land of green plums now- where the heroine again sounds a bit like Sylvia Plath’s - just a wee bit. This one is more poetic, bordering on the styles of people like Marquez, Atwood (through whatever I’ve read of her) – poetic prose, disjointed pictures, portraits, landscapes, woven together – am just 50 pages in, yet to see how it turns out. Its set in Eastern Europe, sometime around the world war, in the times of dictators and innocent people in torture camps and in times of curtailed freedom. The strife for life is so different in such times – its not about the pay packet, the next car, the next holiday, but about the whiff of free air when the mind is without bonds, and a longing for the times when the sky can be seen through unmeshed windows.

The one by Sylvia Plath is set in post war US – females have just started going to work, just started to be treated as almost equals, and they arrive at the same conclusions about life as the Wheelers in Revolutionary Road did – its tough in these less interesting times – the present times, no wars, oppressing mediocrity and strife to equate oneself with the rest of the world. Isn’t this whole drive to improve the per capita GDP so that rest of the economy would flourish - another kind of socialism in capitalism’s disguise? Losing the individual-ness, missing the point, toys again to keep ourselves occupied and away from the unanswered questions. And the tough part is one has to deal with the ennui and the boredom without sounding bored, otherwise the risk of being tagged a demented in this world of normals. Good book.

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