POV Review – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Oh my word, how come I never read this book before now? Everyone says this is such a sad story. If you don’t know any better, it has the requisite ups and bottom of the barrel depths of despair before the main character climbs back up again.  Here’s what makes it sad: The story is (loosely – although parts don’t sound that loose) based on Plath’s life. Plath committed suicide, so when you read it and know that outcome you know the main character didn’t fully make it out of the dark depths. That is where the story is heart-breaking.

The Bell Jar

by Sylvia Plath

Publisher: Harper and Row

©1971

Re-Published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics in 2006

The story is told in the first person present and past tense.

Example of past to present from Pg. 3

          I realized we kept piling up these presents because it was as good as free advertising for the firms involved, but I couldn’t be cynical. I got such a kick out of all those free gifts showering onto us. For a long time afterward I hid them away, but later, when I was all right again, I brought them out, and I still have them around the house. I use the lipsticks now and then, and last week I cut the plastic starfish off the sunglasses case for the baby to play with. 

The above paragraph takes to a moment in her past and then brings it smoothly to the present with “I still have them around the house…”

Example of a line speaking volumes – Pg. 4

          I guess one of my troubles was Doreen.

One sentence and yet, there is so much buried in it, how can you not want to know more?

Example of a very well told first person POV – Pg. 4

          I’d never known a girl like Doreen before. Doreen came from a society girl’s college down South and had bright white hair standing out in a cotton candy fluff round her head and blue eyes like transparent agate marbles, hard and polished and just about indestructible, and a mouth set in a sort of perpetual sneer. I don’t mean a nasty sneer, but an amused, mysterious sneer, as if all the people around her were pretty silly and she could tell some good jokes on them if she wanted to.

Example – a longer version of first person POV (and quite possibly the most amazine three paragraphs that sum up anxiety so well). Pg. 77

         I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

          From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

          I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Yeah, kind of at a loss for words. That is the kind of first person writing I want to do. Put someone in the crook of that fig tree and make them feel like they are there, they are the “I” in the story. They are doing without being told a bunch of “I climbed and sat in the fig tree. I looked up and each fig represented a life that I couldn’t decide whether I wanted or not.”

So summed up, this is the first person writing that makes me swoon. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be literary, it just has to put me there and make me feel like I am the MC. But it has to do so with the finesse of trust that, I, as the reader understand the situation with a play-by-play run down.

This book is totally on my “Must Own List.”

A fun link: The Barbizon Hotel – this is a story on the hotel featured in the beginning of the story and also featured in a part of Ms. Plath’s life.

How do you feel about the first person point of view in this story?

NEXT WEEK: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce

Pull Me Under

by Kelly Luce

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

©2016

261 pages

Agent: Katherine Fausset

Editor: Emily Bell

Genre: Literary with a soft mystery bent as to why things happened

Pull Me Under is about a lady (hafu – half Japanese, half American – bonus, learned a new word) who killed a classmate when she was younger and living in Japan (No worries, I’m not giving anything away. The first page is a prologue disguised as an excerpt from a news magazine and it covers the murder).  She served the time (noticing a theme in my first two picks in my new blog direction) and is now married with a child herself.  She must return to Japan for her father’s funeral and it’s through this that we learn about the past and she learns about herself.

Fun fact: my first Book of the Month book. Squueee!

Alright back on track. I really loved this book. Part of the appeal for me is deciphering what is real and what is for the story, especially in a culture different from what I know. For example there is talk of a pilgrimage around twelve temples…and that is real, which gives me something to research and learn about.  When I can learn through fiction, that’s always a joy. Ms. Luce weaves some Japanese words into the story and it’s a beautiful treat.

The book is written in the first person POV. What I find fascinating is that Ms. Luce has the story very well balanced between past and present tense. Usually one tense takes precedence, but I felt it flowed evenly between the two and I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Excerpt from page 5, which is the first paragraph after the prologue. This is first person done exceptionally well, in my opinion.

      “Kawano Juvenile Recovery Center occupied a compound originally built to house orphaned A-bomb survivors. It was turned into a detention center for juvenile deliquents during the seventies. Some kids claimed the bomb survivors had brought radition with them and infected the place, that no one could recover there, but for me it became home. I was twelve when I arrived, and I didn’t leave until my twentieth birthday.”

I love that she didn’t start the first paragraph with “I” followed by some action. This is difficult, I’ve struggled with it myself and gag everytime I read seven of my sentences in a row that begin with “I”. Ms. Luce has this down.

Another thing that Ms. Luce has done well is a smooth flow from past and present. She doesn’t lose you. By this I mean, sometimes you’re reading a book and the character jumps back in the past and next thing you know the character is in the present and you have to go back a few pages to find where this happened.  That does not happen in this book.  Sometimes in stories the transition from past to present is so obvious it’s jarring. That does not happen in this book. All transitions are smooth and clear.

I would love to include an excerpt of a section to show the smoothness between past and present, but I fear that doing so would cross over into a gray area of what is an acceptable amount to quote from a book. So if you’re looking for a book that does the flow well, I highly recommend this one.

Some Fun Links:

The Shikoku Pilgrimage 

Author site for Kelly Luce

Onigiri – a treat she describes in the book that I want to try. Not a fan of seaweed, but the plum and rice sound oh so good. This link takes you to a blog of what I’m guessing is the same item, in the same wrapping.

NEXT WEEK: Wylding Hall by Elzabeth Hand