The Bell Jar

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The first day of 2017 passed quietly in an illness induced haze of reading, napping, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Not all bad, as I got a good start on the Dumbledore’s Army Readathon. Running from January 1st to 15th, I’m attempting to read 7 different books by diverse authors with diverse characters.

I started with the Expecto Patronum category, and my book of choice was The Bell Jar.

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I chose Plath’s novel as I also suffer from depression, but haven’t ever read a book that sets out to depict it. Not only was Sylvia Plath depressed, the book itself is part-autobiographical. Though the main character is fictional, the story is based on Plath’s own experiences surrounding her 1953 suicide attempt and admittance to an asylum.

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Before the book begins, there is a short introduction that gives the reader a biography of Plath’s life. It seems to be there so the reader realises how many of the true events of her life were used fictitiously in the novel. It certainly made me reflect more on the book as if it were, in fact, a biographical account of events.

I found the structure of the novel striking as it flitted from one topic to another. The narrative was mostly linear, but sometimes doubled back to depict a previously unseen past event as Esther (the main character) mused about it. It was very organic, and I found that the story moved along at a reasonable pace.

It was only in the past year that I came to terms with the fact that I was struggling with depression, and that it was okay to seek help for it. Esther, however, is mired in her depression in a time where plenty of people would think you insane or deluded for having symptoms of mental illness. The 1950’s weren’t especially kind to women, and when you throw in depression you get a mess of issues.

The description of depression as a ‘bell jar’ in which Esther was trapped was spot on, as were her sometimes erratic thoughts, and the difficulty she had accomplishing even routine tasks. Considering the time period, Esther got off relatively well – she was never sent to a state facility, which was definitely a blessing. However, she was administered shock treatments incorrectly, which alters her perception of psychiatry and of asylums.

It was interesting to read about the difference between shock treatment done wrong, and done right. I did a little research, and spoke to someone who knows someone who has had shock treatments, and I was surprised to learn that ECT is still administered today. It can actually be an effective treatment for certain metal illnesses, as long as it is done correctly. As depicted in the novel, it can lift the bell jar of depression and give a reprieve of the symptoms.

Sometimes this reprieve lasts forever, and sometimes the patient must come back for more rounds of treatment. After reading, I definitely wondered if Sylvia Plath would have lived had she been mentally able to seek out more treatment or help. It was a sobering thought.

Esther’s muddled friendships and relationships were relatable, and her thoughts about people at times grim and at times laugh out loud funny. Considering her attitude towards purity and the hypocrisy of impure men who seek pure brides, I understand how this came to be considered a feminist novel. But it was the depictions of mental illness that really struck me and stayed.

Esther, with her depression and suicide attempts. Joan, whose life almost mirrors Esther’s, save that it is tragically even shorter. Valerie, who had a lobotomy and is content to stay in the asylum for the rest of her life. Miss Norris, who never speaks, and gets downgraded to a worse facility.

Women like this have always existed, and exist still to this day. It is important that we recognise that mental illness is real, and that people aren’t always able to seek help to manage it. Whether it be lack of funds, lack of support, or lack of understanding, there are many who end up in terrible situations because they don’t have help.

Mental illness is still extremely stigmatised, though many are now realising the importance of speaking up about it. The Bell Jar is a novel that I would recommend to anybody who seeks a better understanding of depression, or who thinks that if you ‘just have a positive attitude’ that you won’t suffer from it anymore. It’s time to educate yourself, and see the world from someone else’s perspective.

This was a fantastic start to my Readathon, and I can’t wait to continue with the next book.

Are you participating in the DAReadathon? What is your Expecto Patronum pick? Let me know in the comments below!

While We Dream

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Just before the holidays, I broke one of my own rules about making requests on NetGalley. Generally, I avoid requesting self-published novels. I don’t believe that everything self-published is bad, but I also haven’t read any self-published books that I’ve enjoyed either. For that reason, I avoid reading them to spare myself an unpleasant experience and to avoid giving scathing reviews.

I came across While We Dream and my self-made rule went out the window. While I did have some problems with it, I also actually enjoyed this short story collection.

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While We Dream is a collection filled with short and speculative tales of science fiction. Many of the stories within had unique enough concepts that I’ve never before encountered them anywhere else. Le Dain’s writing is fairly to the point, with no unnecessary flourishes of prose to pad out the tales. Within these pages you’ll find tales of clones, ghosts, murder, and dictatorship. You’ll be entering worlds where doppelgangers roam free and your fate is decided by a series of pre-determined tests.

The story for which the title was named was perhaps the least original of the bunch, but also had the most emotional impact

My imagination was captured by many of the stories, but there was one important factor that stopped me from totally enjoying this book.

The dialogue was awful.

Whenever people spoke aloud they sounded completely unnatural. Except for in one instance, there are absolutely no contractions used in this book, even when conversations are casual or when children are speaking.

Though I did like the stories, I thought that this book fell short where most self-published novels do: the editing. Given a good edit with an eye for dialogue, I could easily see this finding its way to my bookshelf and those of my friends. Some of the stories within also seemed cut short before their full idea came through, and thus their full potential was never reached. A good editor could also go over this with the author to give him a sense of what to expand upon.

I’m not sorry I broke my own rule by reading this book, and I will certainly seek out Le Dain again should he self-publish or traditionally publish any other work. I do hope that before then, he finds an editor who can help him reach his full potential.

What are your thoughts on self-published novels? Are there any great ones you have to recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

TTT: Books I’d Love to See Under the Tree

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Hey y’all. It’s Tuesday, which means another Top Ten Tuesday! TTT is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I’m currently suffering either a nasty stomach bug or food poisoning, so this post will be rather shorter than usual and possibly a little incoherent.

Still, I want to try my best to keep things going!

The theme this week is ‘Top Ten Books I’d Love to See Under the Christmas Tree’. I don’t actually have a tree this year, which I’m sad about as I love the smell of fresh pine. In any case, here are ten books that I would love to receive as gifts! Honestly, any book as a gift is wonderful, especially when you’re gifting a personal favourite to someone.

But sometimes you just want to get your hands on something specific!

In no particular order, here’s my wishlist:

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– Goldenhand, by Garth Nix

– The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

– Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel

– The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman

– Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald

– The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu

– Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

– Six-Gun Snow White, by Catherynne M. Valente

– And I Darken, by Kiersten White

– The Trees, by Ali Shaw

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So there they are, books that I was unable to pick up myself for one reason or another, but that I’ve really wanted to read. Getting them as gifts would be really cool.

Gifts aren’t everything during the holidays – seeing your family and friends is the best part of the season. But there’s no denying that presents are a delight!

I hope you all have a great end of the year, and receive some cool books as well!

What are some books you’d love to receive as gifts? Have you read any of my wishlist – and how were they? Let me know in the comments below!

Maresi

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Reading has occupied a lot of my time lately, but I haven’t been able to post reviews as the titles aren’t out for a few months yet. Expect a lot of advance reviews in the new year. In any case, I was excited to read a title that will be published on January 3rd of the new year!

Maresi first caught my eye on NetGalley because of its striking cover. That imagery though. Take your time admiring it, I’ll wait.

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Translated from Swedish, Maresi is the tale of a thirteen-year-old novice in the Red Abbey. A haven for women and girls, they’re taken in, educated, and stay on as Sisters or go out into the world with the skills they’ve learned. Men aren’t allowed on the isle, fisherman docking to trade and never setting foot on land.

As I’m all for female empowerment, the concept of this novel really appealed to me.

I’m always a little wary of translated works, as there’s really no way to know if the translation does the original justice. In this case, the writing was simple but lovely, evoking a fairy-tale feel that never wavered.

I loved the concept for this story, but it was definitely a simplistic one. The mythos of the world was very straightforward, and incorporated a few elements from modern-day pagan beliefs (or rather, old pagan beliefs). The Goddess as a triple incarnation of Maiden, Mother, Crone was the most obvious of these.

I found the characters believable and their interactions with each other seemed realistic. Women and girls of various ethnicities were represented here, though obviously they were purported to be from fictional places. Still, I thought that it was well done, especially the mention of Maresi having to learn a new language when she came to the Abbey. I really liked Dori and Bird, and I would have liked to see more of them and of the other secondary characters.

Even the most important of secondary characters were never really fleshed out. The reader only knows the most basic things about them and their personalities. Still, considering the story is being told in first person from Maresi’s point of view it was understandable that we didn’t know more. It also fits in well with the fairy tale feel of the book.

Despite that, Maresi and Jai’s friendship grew beautifully as the story went on. Similarly, we got to see more of the friendship between the girls and the Sisters as the book progresses. The actions of the First Mother, and of the Rose were particularly telling of the strong bonds created in the Abbey.

While reading, I thought that this would be a great book for middle grade readers. It was a tale of growing up, of sisterhood, and of learning what it means to be a part of something greater than yourself.

I was surprised to encounter sexual violence in this book, but I thought the non-explicit way it was written, and the way in which it was handled was well done. I think that all young people should learn about sexual violence and its repercussions, and this book would be a good vehicle to get the topic on the table in order to talk to them about it in a calm manner.

The magic elements in this book weren’t as pervasive as I expected at the beginning, but blew me away at the end. The author definitely has developed good ideas that I hope to see more of in her work. As it is, the symbolism and simple magic system worked incredibly well with the story. The Goddess worship tied in perfectly and was interesting as well, and it was cool to see it being validated rather than a myth believed only on the island.

Overall, I think this is a great choice for younger readers, or for older ones seeking a simple tale to sink into. It’s a slow paced and deliberate book reminiscent of a folktale. I look forward to reading the prequel, Naondel, and learning more about the founding of the Abbey.

For now, look out for Maresi at bookstores near you in the new year!

Can you recommend any books with a fairy tale feel? Let me know in the comments below!