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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 members say

Average customer ratings

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  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
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  • 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.

45 of 45 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

32 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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...

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

'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.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Losing the Will to Live

What did you like best about The Bell Jar? What did you like least?

This is a very classic and tragic story and I feel awful saying that I didn't make it to the end of the book
I was getting incredibly depressed as I listened so decided to change to something a bit more upbeat

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

No... Unless you enjoy tragic stories

What does Maggie Gyllenhaal bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

The narrator was excellent

Did The Bell Jar inspire you to do anything?

Lost he will to live

Any additional comments?

Sorry

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • M. B. M. G.
  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anca
  • 06-08-18

Brilliant

The book is an amazing study of the life of a depressed young girl who cannot cope with the important decisions in her life.
Maggie Gyllenhaal does a superb job, absolutely perfect.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Amazon Customer
  • 23-03-18

Low intensity, beautiful, well read

Low intensity, beautiful and well read. Enjoyed the performance and got things to think about.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Sam Black
  • 07-12-17

Relatable and Melancholy

I think I got more out of this book with Maggie’s performance behind it. Sometimes I felt rubbed the wrong way and I don’t know if it was the words or the way Maggie said them. Maybe I was supposed to react that way. The first hour or so into it I couldn’t understand why it was a classic - but I’m glad I listened the whole way through. Even in today’s setting you can relate to the topics of mental health, societal pressures and feminism. Good purchase! Might listen again if I’m in a melancholy mood :)

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 22-08-17

Loved it..

I was surprised by how much I loved this book as I usually stick to non-fiction and reading to gain factual knowledge. However this book surprised me - I'm so glad I found it. Perhaps I connected to it having suffered from depression and anxiety for periods throughout my whole life.

I adore Maggie's voice and think she was a perfect match for reading this book. Also the writing was incredibly well done.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Juliana Maziero Castro
  • 22-06-17

good book and audiobook

good quality book and audio book. Plaths book is deep, sad and smartly written. Maggie does a very good job reading it.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Karen
  • 29-05-17

Powerful

I finally listened to this novel after so long. It was intense, and raw with emotion. It's as close as I've come to reading poetry, as the genre confounds me. If only Plath had lived into the 21st century. I think she would be both pleased at the progress we've made with gender equality, yet disappointed with how far we have yet to go. I found much in common with Esther Greenwood. But in 2017, it's much more acceptable to be Esther Greenwood. Maggie Gyllenhaal was absolutely perfect as narrator.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • charlotte
  • 05-05-17

Maggie Gyllenhaal is superb.

I was hesitant about this book in the beginning. It starts off slowly in the vapid world of fashion writing. But I quickly became enthralled.

This novel is a singular experience, an incredibly relatable story of mental illness in a world that is so often bizarre and underwhelming.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Maria B.
  • 06-11-16

Great performance

Enjoyed the book and Maggie's voice is just perfect.
Definitely listening it again. Highly recommended.