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    I recently finished Silvia Plath's The Bell Jar. It had been on my shelves for years, but I'd always put off reading it. We read Plath's poetry at university, but I seem to recall the lecturer dismissing The Bell Jar as a lesser achievement since it's so obviously autobiographical and equally obviously anticipates the author's suicide. She had a real thing about people only reading Plath's work because she'd killed herself, which is fair enough, I suppose. I finally picked the book out after reading a review of a new work about the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case, which referred to their electrocution being mentioned in Plath's famous opening sentence.

    Obviously, it's a sad and claustrophobic read. I'd never given any thought to why it's called The Bell Jar, but the metaphor, when it is presented in the novel, is both really obvious and devastatingly brilliant. It is sometimes very funny too, especially the scene when the narrator (basically Plath) and her fellow magazine interns all get food poisoning after eating avocado, caviar and crab meat at a hospitality event. But really, what stays with you is the thought that this must be one of the best ever fictional representations of a young person's mental health traumas, and it was written nearly 60 years ago.

    Co'incidentally, I was in the small English language section of our best local bookshop a day or two after finishing the novel, and they had Ted Hughes' The Birthday Letters on the shelves. They almost never have English language poetry on display. I didn't buy it, but I wonder how many Zilina locals are desperate to read Ted's versified self-justifications.

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      Tales From The Gas Station Vol I-Jack Townsend. The story is established very early. First paragraph early. This is a shitty little gas station. That never closes. All this loose undefined background allows the narrator free reign to build a series of tales of loose undefined connections. Daftness abounds and there are nods to H P Lovecraft as well as Herge Tintin just for starters. Which means the style and narration is very good for the genre. To recommend beyond that is more difficult-am no more wiser at the end of the tale even allowing for fact two more volumes have already been published.

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        I read The Bell Jar as a teenager in the 80s and thought it was superb. I think it's unfortunate that it's difficult for us to avoid framing the book in the context of her suicide; it would still be a vivid and vital novel had she survived her illness and lived to old age. Its spirit is close to that of The Catcher In The Rye if you imagine the lead character as a contemporary of Holden Caulfield with a similar worldview and wit.

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          I thought that I was the only adolescent male to feel that way (and was accused of faking it male peers).

          It is cheering to note I wasn't quite that alone.

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            I read The Bell Jar quite shortly before I moved here (so, aged 25) because my girlfriend at the time was obsessed with it. I'd quite like to read it again some time without the oddness of that relationship affecting my judgement of it. I do remember liking it a lot more than I did The Catcher in the Rye, which I read nine or ten years earlier and didn't get on with at all.

            This afternoon I finished Leonard and Hungry Paul, which I very much recommend. I'm now reading Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. The 'title' story, 'Story of Your Life' (it bothers me a bit that the story is singular but the collection has the plural in the title) is the short story that the (I thought very good) film Arrival was based on.

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              After finishing it (The Bell Jar), I lent it to a Slovak colleague who would be 25 or so, maybe a little older. She knew of it as a 20th century classic and was intending to read it, but didn't know much about Plath's life or that she was at least as well-regarded critically as a poet. I'm very curious as to what she will make of it.

              I get the Holden Caulfield comparison, though I wonder if there is a tendency to look for precursors to Plath's narrator more than to Salinger's. After all, Holden Caulfield is in a tradition of young, outsider (anti-) heroes that go back at least as far as Mark Twain's characters. Esther's voice feels at least as fresh to me as Holden's, given a lot of factors - mainly that she is a young woman and that she is so unsparing in detailing what went on in mental health institutions.

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                I read The Bell Jar when I was around 20/21 (both my mum and GF at the time were into her), and found it distressing, but can otherwise remember nothing about it. Probably not an ideal book for a bolshie young man - I was heavily into Martin Amis and Milan Kundera at the time.

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                  I was also getting into Amis - and his contemporary Ian McEwan - at about that age. I loved their late 70s and 80s novels, as well as Time's Arrow and Black Dogs from the early 90s. Since then, the only thing I've found bearable by either was Atonement. It just occurs to me that I couldn't think of anyone to fit that 'bands you used to love but now can't stand' thread in the music forum, but these two would be my answer if there was a similar category for authors. Actually, Saturday by McEwan has to be one of the stupidest, most annoying, just downright worst novels of the 21st century.

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                    Originally posted by jameswba View Post
                    I was also getting into Amis - and his contemporary Ian McEwan - at about that age. I loved their late 70s and 80s novels, as well as Time's Arrow and Black Dogs from the early 90s. Since then, the only thing I've found bearable by either was Atonement. It just occurs to me that I couldn't think of anyone to fit that 'bands you used to love but now can't stand' thread in the music forum, but these two would be my answer if there was a similar category for authors. Actually, Saturday by McEwan has to be one of the stupidest, most annoying, just downright worst novels of the 21st century.
                    This. Pretty much word for word

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                      Add Salman Rushdie to that pair?

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                        I still like Salman Rushdie. There have been some mediocre, bordering on rubbish, books, but he can still do it for me

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                          Originally posted by jameswba View Post
                          I was also getting into Amis - and his contemporary Ian McEwan - at about that age. I loved their late 70s and 80s novels, as well as Time's Arrow and Black Dogs from the early 90s. Since then, the only thing I've found bearable by either was Atonement. It just occurs to me that I couldn't think of anyone to fit that 'bands you used to love but now can't stand' thread in the music forum, but these two would be my answer if there was a similar category for authors. Actually, Saturday by McEwan has to be one of the stupidest, most annoying, just downright worst novels of the 21st century.
                          My review of 'Saturday' is still one of the most popular posts on my old US house-dad blog - without shame, I post the link here again for your delight and information. Like you, I loved the first McEwan short stories and novels, they seemed very fresh in the early 80s. I was perplexed not just at how bad 'Saturday' was, but at how many glowing, obsequious reviews it received from the adoring literati.

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                            Originally posted by imp View Post

                            My review of 'Saturday' is still one of the most popular posts on my old US house-dad blog - without shame, I post the link here again for your delight and information. Like you, I loved the first McEwan short stories and novels, they seemed very fresh in the early 80s. I was perplexed not just at how bad 'Saturday' was, but at how many glowing, obsequious reviews it received from the adoring literati.
                            Thanks for linking that, I enjoyed it. I just hope I won't get caught out lifting bits of it unacknowledged, here or anywhere else.... . And yes, the reviews. I suppose, the critics do form a sort of self-perpetuating clique a lot of the time. As I recall from the time, Christopher Hitchens (whom you quoted) was coming out with the same sort of shite as Amis and McEwan about 9/11, Iraq etc. I also remember some reviewers spouting rubbish about how the novel 'perfectly captured our collective post-9/11 angst' or some such.

                            As for Salman Rushdie, I know he sometimes gets bracketed with that pair, but the only novel of his I've ever read is Midnight's Children. I liked it a lot, yet it hasn't compelled me to read any more by him.

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                              Thanks Ian, I enjoyed that

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                                Originally posted by jameswba View Post
                                As for Salman Rushdie, I know he sometimes gets bracketed with that pair, but the only novel of his I've ever read is Midnight's Children. I liked it a lot, yet it hasn't compelled me to read any more by him.
                                Yes, same. I liked Midnight's Children so much that my girlfriend is currently learning about the history of India by reading it because I gave it to her for Christmas last year, and I might re-read it at some point when she's done with it. I might try and look up something else by him at some point.

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                                  The Satanic Verses is brilliant. Shame is good too. I think my favourite (marginally) is The Ground Beneath Her Feet

                                  ​​

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                                    Haroun and the Sea of Stories is still (I think) AdeC jr's favourite book, he reads it ever year so he tells me.

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                                      Thanks Ad Hoc and AdeC for those recommendations. Like Sam, I could imagine reading Midnight's Children again. I still have it on the shelf here.

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                                        Speaking of rereading, the last book I finished was D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. The colleague I lent The Bell Jar to gave me a copy. Not a present as such ; the company she ordered it from had somehow duplicated her order and told her not to send the extra copy back, which was nice of them.

                                        I had two long-standing memories linked to this book. The first was my A' level English teacher saying, during a discussion on which classics we should / shouldn't read, that he found Lawrence unreadable. The second was actually reading the book and finding the first half (everything before Paul's starts seeking romantic relationships) much more compelling than the second, to the extent that years later I could remember whole passages from the first half by heart while barely recalling what happens in the second half.

                                        Reading it again hasn't really changed that impression, though it is a great novel. Its portrayal (in the first-half) of domestic violence must be one of the greatest in all literature, certainly up to the time it was written, though passages by Ann Bronte in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall run it pretty close.

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                                          Originally posted by jameswba View Post
                                          though passages by Ann Bronte in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall run it pretty close.
                                          How good is that novel! I read it over 20 years ago and parts of it still stick with me. Conversely, I read Wuthering Heights at about the same time which I remember very little about.

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                                            Originally posted by Jon View Post

                                            How good is that novel! I read it over 20 years ago and parts of it still stick with me. Conversely, I read Wuthering Heights at about the same time which I remember very little about.
                                            I only read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall two years ago and yes, it's brilliant. It never deserved to be less well-regarded than Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I love Wuthering Heights too, though I had to read it three times to feel I understood it.

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                                              Finished The Curious History of Sex which was very good, and back onto fiction for my holiday so will read The Nickel Boys.

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                                                Finished Blood and Guts in High School this morning, the last 30 page were a slog and a half. God knows how many mentions of "c*nt" were in that book. I was hoping Acker would be a more readable version of William Burroughs, I was wrong. I'm going to chill out now and read the second half of Stephen King's IT, which I started at the beginning of the year. After that, I've got Alex Chilton's biography to read.

                                                On the subject of The Bell Jar, I thought it was a superb book, good call by james on the humour included in it of New York life for a young girl trying to get started in employment, reminiscent in part to Colm Toibin's Brooklyn. However, the part were she is swimming further away from the shore will always stay with me and is the best attempt to describe subconscious suicidal tendencies I have come across (if not the only).

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                                                  Originally posted by jameswba View Post
                                                  I also love Rebecca, and just about everything else by Daphne du Maurier. It wasn't long ago that I read one of her short story collections, the one where The Birds is the title story. All the stories in it are superb, with Kiss Me Again, Stranger perhaps the best of all.
                                                  "Don't Look Now" is also from a Du Maurier short story

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                                                    Landslide-Michael Wolff. First of his trilogy on Trump have read. Doesnt pull punches but left with impression there a grudging respect for the failure of anybody in US political system to actually nail his hopes of resurrection. Guiliani for example gets a far harder unsympathetic hearing. There is a lot of repetition about the bunker mentality that permeated the White House following the election result but it still seems incredible that for almost 2 months there was a complete vacuum in the way the country was being run-or rather not being run. Maybe this not unusual to US posters. Overall entertaining read for somebody not familiar with Washington events-Biden is absent throughout and author seems to place more faith in Pence & McConnell.

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