Acclaimed poet Sylvia Plath’s only novel, this semi-autobiographical account of Esther Greenwood, a 19-year-old student spiralling into depression and suicide attempts, is raw and, at times, darkly funny
THE BELL JAR
by Sylvia Plath
Illustrated by Beya Rebai (Faber £14.99, 272 pp)
Acclaimed poet Sylvia Plath’s only novel, this semi-autobiographical account of Esther Greenwood, a 19-year-old student spiralling into depression and suicide attempts, is raw and, at times, darkly funny.
Awarded an internship at a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she feels suffocated: ‘Wherever I sat . . . I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my sour air.’ Navigating a world of sexual double standards, she rejects the conventional future of marriage and homemaking, yearning for creative freedom as a writer.
Her breakdown, as she unravels, is visceral and the illustrations in this edition reflect her internal chaos. Devastatingly, Plath killed herself shortly after its British publication.
AN UNSUITABLE ATTACHMENT
by Barbara Pym (Pan £9.99, 256 pp)
Despite already being a successful writer, Pym’s seventh novel was rejected by her publisher and did not appear until after her death, when her reputation was restored by the support of Philip Larkin.
Set in the North London parish of St Basil, this follows the fortunes of a group of parishioners after the arrival of Rupert Stonebird, an eligible bachelor whose single status is a magnet for matchmakers.
Local librarian Ianthe Broome leads the field, but when Ianthe is drawn to handsome but younger and less socially acceptable colleague John, tongues wag, judgments are made and disappointments keenly felt.
It may not be the best of Pym’s books but her scalpel-like dissection of middle-class mores, her dry wit and Austen-like observations are, as ever, worth the ride.
Its main value is to show the seeds of Wodehouse’s talent rather than as a comic read in itself, but there’s still plenty to savour
by P. G. Wodehouse (Hutchinson Heinemann £12.99, 160pp)
Published to celebrate its 120th anniversary, this first novel by comic genius Wodehouse rehearses all the themes, character types and By Jove! language that will flourish in his later, more satisfying books.
Set in St Austin’s, a boy’s boarding school where boxing and running preoccupy the privileged pupils, a thief has broken into the pavilion and stolen the sports trophies (pots). As the culprit is sought, enmities and jealousies come to light.
Popular Jim Thomson has got himself into a spot of bother through gambling and so is the main suspect for the theft, but a simple resolution rather deflates the drama.
Its main value is to show the seeds of Wodehouse’s talent rather than as a comic read in itself, but there’s still plenty to savour.
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