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.