Esther Greenwood is smart, I mean the kind of smart where she’s done exceptionally well in school and none of her classes represent that big of a challenge. Her goal is to become a writer and when she’s invited to join a group of young women to be guest editors for a girl’s magazine in New York City, Esther jumps at the opportunity. Unfortunately, the experience falls deeply short of so many expectations, inviting in a level of disillusionment and despair that was elevated when she was later turned down from a college summer writing program that she’d pinned her hopes upon attending. We get her first person narrative point of view of her descent into depression and mental illness.
What makes this so compelling is Esther’s brilliant mind. Her thoughts sometimes seemed like a glimpse into madness but her intelligence and insights connected with me in a way that’s hard to define. I understood how her dashed hopes and dreams left her rudderless, making the world seem without luster as she had no visible view of a direction. If you’ve ever been there, you also understand how scary it can be to see it played out through someone else.
I can’t remember not knowing of Sylvia Plath and this book. However, I wasn’t aware that this was semi-autographical nor that she died a couple of months after its publication, which she released under a pseudonym and only in the United Kingdom. It’s clear, at least to this reader, that Plath was inviting us into her own mind. If you’ve ever experienced clinical depression or any variation of that, you’ll recognize so much of Esther’s thoughts and feelings, uncomfortably so and the view of the psychiatric community in the early 1960s was troublesome.
At the last minute, I opted to listen to the book when the audiobook became available at my library and that was a great decision because the narrator, Maggie Gyllenhaal was magnificent. This is a disturbing piece of genius that’s not easy to absorb but Esther’s wit and humor is peppered throughout her chronicle. The writing is just extraordinary, nothing like I’ve ever read and a sad reminder of the talent we lost too soon.
- Release Date: February 2, 2016 (originally issued January 1963)
- Narrator: Maggie Gyllenhaal
- Audio Length: 7 hours, 24 minutes
- Publisher: HarperAudio