Queer, Sultry Summers
by Charlotte Reads Classics
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.
This morning I felt like reading The Bell Jar. The opening line has stayed with me, stuck in my mind, ever since I first read it standing in a book shop. I don’t know when or where (I would guess I must have been about fourteen, I could be wrong), but I haven’t read a book that has as memorable a first line since.
I suppose I read The Bell Jar three or four times as a teenager and I loved it for Esther’s voice. I loved the way she opened up, right down to her bones. When I read the book again this morning, I was struck by the tiny details I remembered as clearly as if I’d read it yesterday: the caviar and chicken slices, the author eating his salad with his fingers, the sheath dress, the clear vodka, the pocketbooks, the scene about ‘water-repellant coats’, the swimming, the interpreter.
I love the story she reads about the fig tree – each fig represents an opportunity, but instead of enjoying one, any of them, they wrinkle and rot before her eyes. Beneath the surface, particularly during the first half of the book, haven’t we all felt like Esther? Her fear about the future, her inability to pick one thing to be is something I think about too – and I don’t think I am the only one!
This is a book to grow up with, I read it completely differently to how I read it as a teenager and have enjoyed it all the more. It is nice on this quiet Tuesday to have something so unique yet so familiar to think about.
It’s years since I read The Bell Jar – strangely enough I had forgotten that line – it’s a a wonderful line though. Thank you for reminding me.
You’re welcome, I think it is quite a haunting book for a lot of readers, although we all have our own specific parts to remember!
I’m the same as Ali – I haven’t revisited this book for ages, but maybe I should. I’d like to rediscover it with more adult eyes.
Yes, I really enjoyed reading it again because obviously now I am older I have a different perspective, but at the same time I could remember everything I felt the first time. Definitely would recommend the experience.
I can’t believe I’ve made it all these years and never read any Sylvia Plath’s writing! Thanks for the great review. Definitely putting it on the list!
Cool, let me know what you think if you give it a go! I do like her poetry as well but I find it tricky to just sit down and read poems – have to be in the right mood.
I’ve always felt that Plath’s writing may not be for me. I had clubbed her with the Virginia Woolf category of writers (beautiful writing, but not much of a plot), but that line you posted? that really sucks me in. I should try and read some of her work – starting with this one.
I would recommend it, especially if you like the first line – I think it is quite representative of the writing you will get all the way through. She is quite introspective like Woolf, but there is definitely a plot to The Bell Jar.
I read The Bell Jar a year or two ago, but most of the details are hazy. I do remember that it was a very difficult book to read (it hit a little too close to home sometimes), and I definitely remember how stunning the ending is. That part I remember almost word-by-word. The feeling of hope, of forgiveness, of resilience, it made the ending of the novel memorable and inspiring. Perhaps I should give it a reread.
Yes, great summary! I think she is hard to read at times because you do relate to it so (sometimes worryingly) intensely. Plus I was surprised at how many of the details came flooding back.
I have never read “The Bell Jar”, nor am I acquainted with Sylvia Plath, at all… But strangely, this past week I had an urge to read it. How odd! This opening line just made the book more fascinating to me!
Its a great first line! 🙂
I am currently reading the novel! 🙂 It’s a great line followed by many lines of equal greatness!
Glad you are enjoying it – a testament to the power of a good opening line 😉
I can totally relate to those figs shrivelling up…opportunities in life passing you by while all the happy stuff seems to happen to everyone else. Such negative thoughts can plague us. It is an amazing read. I know others felt depressed and weighed down by it but that is the weight of the bell jar they are feeling. Such is the power of Plath’s writing. I enjoyed your post x
Thank you, the fig metaphor is particularly troubling. I love everything about the metaphor of the bell jar, but particularly towards the end when Esther says she feels it lifting – I was struck by the feeling of all the fresh air rushing in, and how nothing perceivable was different yet everything had changed. Very powerful.
For a university module this term I’m due to read Crossing the Water by Plath, which should be interesting. A few years ago I read The Bell Jar, and really enjoyed it, alongside Ariel. Her poem “Tulips” is probably the poem of hers that has stuck with me best – probably because I had a good English teacher who introduced me to it!
Thanks for reminding me of another book I must re-read 🙂
Always a pleasure 🙂 I hope you choose to write about Crossing the Water when you get to it – I’d be very interested in reading your thoughts about it!
I LOVE The Bell Jar! Definitely one of my all-time favourites. I was Esther’s age when I read it, and it seemed as though every page provided a mirror of feelings to which I couldn’t give a proper voice. Pure brilliance.
I do love the first line, but I have come across some good ones recently. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink, anyone?
Haha, we shall never run out of ways to mention I Capture the Castle – another excellent first line!
I’ve only read this once in my life, so far, but I’d completely agree that it’s a memorable book and one that demands a re-read, I think. It deals with a lot of themes that interest me and I’d really like to sit down and get into it again, maybe write some thoughts about it – it’s been a few years since I picked it up!