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The Bell Jar

Written by: Sylvia Plath
Narrated by: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Length: 7 hrs and 24 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (30 ratings)

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Publisher's 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

Average Customer Ratings
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honest and raw

Loved it. The way she describes her thoughts and feelings is so honest and warms my heart.

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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.

3 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.

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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  • Anonymous User
  • 26-09-19

Loved it!

I absolutely loved this audiobook! The feelings of the main character are relatable to a lot of people, I think. Plath’s writing is beautiful and Gyllenhaal voicing the main character is a perfect match. After completing the novel I missed Gyllenhaal’s narration so much that I also purchased her take on the 35h Anna Karenina (which I just finished and loved). I warmly recommend this novel!

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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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  • 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.

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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.

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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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  • Bryony
  • 09-09-15

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.

89 people found this helpful

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  • Mr N J Filer
  • 01-08-15

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.

86 people found this helpful

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  • Lukas
  • 07-11-15

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...

40 people found this helpful

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  • Sarah
  • 07-02-16

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.

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  • Rachel Redford
  • 06-08-15

'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.

22 people found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 25-11-15

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!

5 people found this helpful

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  • M.B.
  • 30-07-15

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.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Jlord
  • 20-05-16

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.

10 people found this helpful

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  • missusmoo
  • 02-05-16

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.

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  • Daisy
  • 27-09-15

Definitely worth listening to

My first experience of this classic. It's a great story, though I was a bit disappointed there wasn't more closure in the ending. Loved Maggie Gyllenhaal's narration.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Chelsea
  • 27-01-19

Beautiful

Love the voices, love the setting. Just wished it was longer. Interesting poetic way of describing things for a novel

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-10-17

Read already? Still worth a listen!

Firstly this is narrated so well, I love the voice Maggie brings to this book. It has a very sultry 1960's feel (yes, I know that's not an actual thing, it's just how it feels).

I read this as a teenager and I'm so glad I have revisited it. It resonates in a completely different way in adulthood. I imagine this was incredibly groundbreaking for its time.

Keep listening at the end for a brief synopsis of Sylvia's life and experiences and, ultimately, her death. The last part of the novel which reflects on how she will know the bell jar won't descend again? Sandlot prophetic, but really powerful. Loved this.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Colette
  • 01-06-17

Sylvia Plath Rocked

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, I thought the writing and the reading of the book superb.

What did you like best about this story?

Sylvia Plath's use of language. Her ability to get inside her character and deliver that character to the reader was brilliant.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

All of them. I found the story flowed right throughout.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

All people are created equal. Only society deems otherwise.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-07-20

Struggled to like the main character

I found the character to be overindulgent and I struggled to relate - despite the familiarity of her situation.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 24-06-20

problematic

Esther is too superficial and racist to be likeable. Assaults a black man, calls people of colour ugly, etc. The only latinx guy is a rapist? Not a good portrayal. She has an elitist attitude towards working class people who want a steady job and have a big family. The narration was too monotone.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-06-20

Brilliant, MG was the perfect narrator!

I loved this book. I've often heard it in popular culture, it always seemed to be referenced as an intense read, controversial feminism, and highly intellectual (10 things I hate about you, little fire everywhere, as examples), and always felt too daunted to tackle it. But I'm so happy that did, as it didn't end up being daunting at all, I couldn't stop listening! It is beautifully written, the descriptions of people, places, scenarios are so poetically written, that you could picture and feel exactly what SP was intending for you to imagine/feel. I think the themes are something a lot of people, not just women, relate to, even in 2020.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-06-20

An all time favourite - TW: mental illness

Such an incredible narrative of womanhood, adolescence, creativity and mental illness. A must for young adults. It breaks my heart this was Plath’s only Novel. It’s brilliant and the writing rings so true. Maggie Gyllenhaal was the perfect choice as narrator. Will forever reread and relisten to this.

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  • L-Ka
  • 21-05-20

Good story, great performance

The performance of Maggie Gyllenhaal really makes this book, she is great to listen to and really brings the main character come to life. The story is interesting and I enjoyed the book a lot.

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  • fioco
  • 05-05-20

Not the literary chore I thought it would be

I'd managed to passively ignore this book for years, thinking it would be too fancy and literary for me. Like the books we were forced to dissect in high school.

This book was an absolute joy to listen to, Sylvia Plath was such an intelligent and drily funny writer. Extremely clever. I enjoyed the insight into her own descent into mental illness, I think it will make me a better person to be aware of the signs and the feelings.

Maggie Gyllenhaal's narration was next-level great and really helped bring the story to light. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-02-20

Audio is really quiet

I love this story but I do need to turn my earphones onto the highest setting and I find it hard to hear.