Here are two books both critically acclaimed, yet both didn’t work for me.
Book: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
I picked up The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because it’s said to be a modern-day classic and also because it’s the only book written by the author. When an author writes just one book, it is often close to her/his true self and that’s a treat to read.
The book introduces us to the bright young Esther Greenwood who is in New York on a writing scholarship. It traces her journey as she tries to fit in, to do things expected of her but fails. She finds she can neither be a true blue society girl nor a ‘good’ girl. Flitting somewhere in the middle, she loses her real self. She tries to fit into societal moulds but feels suffocated by them(like she’s under a bell jar, hence the name of the book). Then on begins her spiral into depression, slowly and surely, as she lets go of one opportunity after another. Finally she finds herself in a mental facility, struggling to regain her balance.
I found it hard to connect with Esther. She is so confused about what she wants from life. Perhaps one needs to be in a specific state of mind to understand and appreciate her, perhaps one needs to have experienced some of that depression to truly empathise. Or perhaps Plath spilt her own disinterest in life into the book. That might be a testimony of the honesty with which it is written but it renders this a hard book to read.
Book: The Metamorphosis
Author: Franz Kafka
This is as unusual a book as they can get. It talks about Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a vermin. Interestingly, we don’t even know whether it was actually a vermin or an insect of some kind because the book is originally written in German and Kafka is known to use words that keep baffling translators.
Moving on, Gregor’s change scares and disgusts his parents and Grete, his sister. Grete, initially shows some concern leaving food for him and at least noticing if he was eating or not. She even tries to make his room a little comfortable for this new version of him. His father has to begin going to work again as does Grete while his mother has to take up sewing assignments to run the house. A depressed Gregor gives up eating and finally meets his end and his family moves on living together happily.
This is a less than 100 page book but boy, it proved hard to read. Like The Bell Jar, I couldn’t empathise with Gregor, perhaps because I come from an entry difference space as compared to him. The book reflects Kafka’s dissatisfaction with his own life, stuck in a nine-to-five job routine which, he felt, took away from his true love which was writing. It also shows his real life alienation from his family. With that background, I could get some understanding of the book but it still remained too dark for my taste.