Ishiguro & Plath

A month or so ago I finished “A Pale View of Hills” by Kazuo Ishiguro, and it is an excellent read. It is suspenseful and makes you truly pause and consider the strangeness and mystery of what you just read.

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The story spans Etsuko’s life, from expectant mother in Japan with her first husband, to her second marriage and second, adult child Niki in England. Niki is visiting and mother and daughter discuss many things, primarily the suicide of Etsuko’s eldest daughter Keiko. The story jumps from past to present, intensifies as it progresses and displays the varying differences in the parental-child relationship between Etsuko & Keiko, and Etsuko & Niki.

There is a sense of disturbance throughout the book that builds and builds, until overflowing. Immediately upon finishing the last page, I had to visit discussion boards to make sure I was understanding everything in its entirety. Not because the content was so bizarre or incomprehensible, but because the end of the book reveals completely new factors of the story and characters that you suspected, but for which you weren’t prepared. At least that was my reaction. My excitement, curiosity and bewilderment compelled me to seek out the ideas and potential clarifications of others. Hence my rush to the discussion boards. This book is a great read.

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One week ago I finished “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath. When I was almost halfway through I saw similarities between myself and the protagonist, Ester Greenwood. Like myself, she’s a recent English grad who seems slightly sad, disillusioned, isolated and most importantly (to me) doesn’t seem certain of her life’s path. And with Ester there’s a sense of dissatisfaction with life’s options in general. (Or maybe I read a lot into her character because of my own anxieties ha ha!)

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Then after completing the book, my relation to Ester Greenwood seems diminished. It made me laugh that I’ve had the same passing thoughts, wondering what if it’s what an individual believes about the afterlife or lack thereof that happens to them when they die? Almost like heaven or hell exist for you because you believe them to exist, or if you believe you die and nothing happens afterward then nothingness is your fate.

Whatever the case, I found Plath’s analogy of a bell jar to be very powerful and apt. I was especially impressed with, and struck by, the first page of Chap. 20–which I shall not quote here because I don’t want to spoil it.

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We all have dark times and thoughts. A darkness that does not visit once but comes to visit us again and again. It was sad and understandable that so often family, friends and various visitors said the wrong thing to Ester. Maybe they were visiting her out of curiosity or good intentions but the emphasis on her getting better and forgetting all about this difficult time and eventually marrying seemed to me the most prominent and aggravating encouragements of others.

The uncertainty of what to say, the frequency of making the wrong comment made me wonder how often I’ve said the very wrong thing to someone who was in distress. Maybe they needed my silence, to listen to their personal turmoil. Or perhaps they needed my honesty. Instead of saying something to the effect of “You’re going to get better and one day these feelings will be a hazy memory” I should have spoken honestly but positively, and honored their feelings, saying, “I’m worried about you but I know you’re strong and I’m here for you, however you need me.”

Antonina

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One thought on “Ishiguro & Plath

  1. I read The Bell Jar when I was 19 I think and absolutely loved it- in fact she probably is still one of my favourite poets. Tragic, tortured and tremendous. “Dying, is an art, like everything else, I do it exceptionally well.” From Lady Lazarus- one of my favourite lines. I think it’s the sense of detachment from things which makes her amazing, and so easy to relate to (i think). As you say, we each have our own dark places, shadows which follow us around.. it is so sad that she wasn’t able to transcend hers. Thanks for sharing.

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