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Summary

Read by the critically acclaimed actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. 

When Esther Greenwood wins an internship at a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther's life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women's aspirations seriously. 

Sylvia Plath's groundbreaking semiautobiographical novel offers an intimate, honest and often wrenching glimpse into mental illness. The Bell Jar broke the boundaries between fiction and reality and helped cement Sylvia Plath's place as an enduring feminist icon. Celebrated for its darkly humorous, razor-sharp portrait of 1950s society, it continues to resonate with readers today as a testament to the universal human struggle to claim one's rightful place in the world. 

©2015 Sylvia Plath (P)2015 Faber & Faber Ltd

What listeners say about The Bell Jar

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    3 out of 5 stars
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THIS IS NOT UNABRIDGED

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

As a huge fan of The Bell Jar, I knew from the first sentence that this was not, as stated, unabridged. How can an audiobook miss the first few pages of a classic novel and not mention it? Maggie Gyllenhaal does a great job reading it, and Plath's book itself is of course wonderful, but very disappointed at being mislead by Audible/Amazon.

141 people found this helpful

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First few pages are missing

Would you recommend The Bell Jar to your friends? Why or why not?

The first few pages are missing. Who knows what's missing as well. It's a shame. Perhaps I'm mistaken and there are two versions of the book or something...

64 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

This is not unabridged

I'm very familiar with this novel but bought on audio as I'm a big fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal, so thought it a nice way to revisit it. Unfortunately, as another reviewer has pointed out, the first several pages of the novel are omitted. All the stuff about it being the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs. Baffling, really.

Has put me off in case more edits have been made throughout. Classic novel. Great shame to mess with it.

123 people found this helpful

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Beautifully written and narrated

Maggie Gyllenhaal's wonderful voice is an absolute pleasure to listen to. The story itself is difficult to hear at times but it is a testament to Sylvia Plath's writing that you live through every moment with the main character in raw detail.

10 people found this helpful

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'Malaise like molasses'

This is Canongate's fitting tribute to Sylvia Plath: a sophisticated production of her classic and only novel published in UK in 1963, a month before she gassed herself. This inescapable historical fact inhabits everyone's reading of the novel for the last fifty years and gives the story a haunting and shocking power. The difference between fact and fiction is that Esther Greenwood - who seems to have it all going for her but slides into terrifying mental illness - survives to tackle the rest of her life, whereas Sylvia Plath did not. Despite the best attempts of her long-suffering mother, Esther, feeling trapped under her 'bell jar', disintegrates into attempted suicide and incarceration with electro shock therapy, all detailed in visceral language. The conclusion, however, is positive.
Plath's language is a joy, even if her experiences are not. A self-mocking wry humour saves the listening experience from being merely depressing, and her quirky metaphors and similes jump out. The blood - and there's a lot of blood in The Bell Jar - is 'gathering like fruit' from Esther's self-inflicted cut, but most striking is the image of the fig tree which Esther imagines laden with fruit, each fig representing a possible future for her: a husband, happy home and children; a brilliant professor; an amazing editor... But she sits starving in the tree because she can only have one and as she can't decide which one to take, they wrinkled and blackened and 'plopped to the ground'.
The narration by New York actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is brilliant. She makes Esther talk directly to the listener conveying the whole heady mix of her qualities: her idiosyncrasies and insights, her ambitions, frustrations, energy, humour - and all her blinding frailties.

29 people found this helpful

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Wonderfully performed

Where does The Bell Jar rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

One of my top audible listens so far. I have read the book as a teenager and then again at university, so I know it very well. But listening to it brought it back to life again. Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance is wonderful and does justice to Plath's vivid yet lyrical writing.

Any additional comments?

The only complaint I have is that this recording omits the opening paragraphs of The Bell Jar. Perhaps the reflective opening paragraphs were omitted to make the audiobook lively and gripping from the very first words but it is a bit of a shame for those who know this book very well.

17 people found this helpful

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A brilliant way to revisit a classic

I was a little wary of revisiting a book I'd read and loved as a teenager, almost 15 years down the line! However, this audio edition was a great way to reacquaint myself with The Bell Jar, and I really enjoyed Maggie Gyllenhaal's narration of the story. I spotted that a few of the other reviews referred to the first few pages of the book being missing from the audio edition, but didn't experience this problem myself, which was a relief.
I would recommend The Bell Jar for anyone interested in reading more classics or who would like a fresh angle on a book they loved in their youth.

14 people found this helpful

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Brilliant. Important. Eye opening.

Maggie does an incredible job of narrating this novel, in fact I fell in love with her narration of this book within the first 10 minutes, it's perfect and I think it summarises Esther Greenwood and the particularly beautiful way Sylvia wrote this book in every way. If you're on the fence, definitely buy this audiobook! No doubt about it! It's an important book. It will change your life. Read it!

6 people found this helpful

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this just wasn't for me

Despite being young, female and unafraid of dark subject areas - I found this unbearably boring. I'd wanted to read it for years as it is a famous book. It is completely vapid and sounds like a description of a woman with no fight, swallowed by her own self-entitlement. I don't like that this book is supposed to make the reader identify with it because I feel like her description of the inner workings of a young female mind is everything that is wrong in the world at the moment coupled with the narcissism and insecurity. I didn't find it supportive of women or representative of a good attitude for life. I also didn't like the style of writing so I guess it just isn't for me. I found it lacking in imagery (whether described or elluded to) and couldn't imagine the story fully. It did not capture me, inspire me, move me or give me anything to think about after finishing it (which is pretty impressive considering I can get that from a TV advert). One of the worst books I've ever read and very disappointing.

4 people found this helpful

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Brilliant and poignant

I loved the narration that brought this touching story to life. It is a sad but beautifully wrought story of a young woman finding her way in the world.

4 people found this helpful

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  • MGB
  • 21-08-15

Esther whispering into your ear

I've always struggled to finish reading the Bell Jar, but this was disturbingly fascinating.
You are treated to Sylvia Plath's words, delivered flawlessly by Maggie Gyllenhaal, perfevt incarnation of Esther.

5 people found this helpful

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  • emilie boivin
  • 26-03-19

Great book

I purchased the book by curiosity. I never had the chance to any of Plath's work before, and I always thought of Maggie Gyllenhaal as a great actress, so I went ahead and downloaded The Bell Jar. There a lightness about the heroine's descent into madness. The narrative is almost a casual chatter describing on despair and disillusionment. It allowed me to take it all in, let it sit, then fully appreciate the richness of Plath's work.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 13-04-21

Writing is beautiful. Gyllenhaal was immaculate.

Maggie Gyllenhaal was absolutely immaculate. She embodies Esther Greenwood perfectly and switches voices and tones depending on character well.

Sylvia Plath has written so beautifully and well. The depiction of a nervous breakdown felt slow and subtle to me, and I think that's very accurate. The little things Sylvia describes are all magical in their sometimes melancholic way. Some things were relatable. Esther as a character is a somewhat normal person and was sometimes relatable. I think that goes to show how mental illnesses can affect anyone. Plath's work was revolutionary for her time in regards to feminism and mental health. However, some mildly racist terminology is used, and there is maybe one scene that read as racist to me. There is also a lack of people of color except for one very minor antagonistic character so there's that, but I guess this is somewhat characteristic of her time. All in all, it is tragic that Sylvia never got to write her second book. It would've been superb. This is close to the first of Sylvia's work I've read, and I'll definitely be reading more.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Galit
  • 25-01-21

Brilliant performance

Loved it. The book is great and the performance of Meggie Gylenhaal makes is wonderful.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Nakota
  • 05-12-15

Weird

I'd like to know why did they cut the first paragraph about the Rosenbergs? weird

2 people found this helpful

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  • Piwacket
  • 19-04-22

7hours & 25 minutes of baby talk

Good luck if you can listen through 7 hours & 25 minutes of the narrator’s babydoll voice, which, together with a depressing and often-whiney story of mental breakdown, makes this an audiobook to be endured rather than enjoyed. And the word “poems” is mispronounced as “pomes” about sixty thousand times throughout the narrative — like fingernails on a blackboard.

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  • Sarah Jayne Fell
  • 08-03-22

Wonderfully read by Maggie Gyllenhaal

You believe that Maggie is Plath, or Esther, she really does this important book justice.

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  • Emilia Blumberg Vargas
  • 31-01-22

Recording is very quiet

The book is great, but the volume is way too quiet to listen to out in public. A bit of wind, chatter, or traffic easily overpowers the volume of the audio.

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  • Thanh
  • 26-11-21

Beautiful and touching

Absolutely wonderful masterpiece by Sylvia Plath. As someone who has experienced mental illness myself, I find the main character/narrator highly relatable and compelling. Definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a nuanced fiction novel about the effects of depression, or anyone who just enjoys good writing and a great story.

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  • Daniel
  • 15-09-21

Annoying

Maybe I expected something else and the book is a masterpiece, but I was constantly annoyed by the protagonist and her perception of the world.