Tag: Bukowski

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Posted October 30, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic / 7 Comments

The Bell Jar by Sylvia PlathTitle: The Bell Jar (Goodreads)
Author: Sylvia Plath
Published: Harper Collins, 1963
Pages: 213
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Esther Greenwood is a young woman from Boston who gains an internship at a prominent women’s magazine in New York City. We follow her personal life and her decline into depression, attempting suicide to being committed into an asylum. We see the bad treatment as well as the good, all the way up to her attempt to re-enter the world.

This is the seminal semi-autobiographical novel of Sylvia Plath and I’m so glad that I’ve finally read The Bell Jar. I want to say she is the female version of Charles Bukowski (even though I’ve only read Factotum); there are differences but I feel like the voice and style feel very similar. Originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas to protect identities of characters she took liberties with, but more  the fact it parallels Plath’s own experiences.

A bell jar is an inverted glass jar that is normally air tight used to display objects for observation, normally for scientific curiosity. For Esther the bell jar is a symbol of madness, when gripped with depression she feels like she is stuck in a jar with no real perspective to the outside world. It prevents her from  making any real connections with people and sometimes she feels like she is on display (especially when she was hospitalised and received all those visitors).

What was interesting for me is that to me it never really felt like Esther Greenwood suffered from depression to begin with. I’m not saying she wasn’t really suffering but for me I think the idea was forced on her by everyone else, just because her thoughts were a little macabre and she was a little different. Almost like she was forced into her descent, because she was a little different to the norm.

Esther has an obsession with death; we get that from the very start with her fascination of newspaper headlines about executions, suicide and death. There is also the blood motif  throughout the book; blood normally represents life but the constant bleeding would point towards death. When she starts to think about killing herself she talks about it at great lengths and even practices slashing her own wrists.

I think this is a novel about the regression into madness, the life experiences that normally have a positive on a person’s live, but for Esther these were partly responsible of her descent. Romance, success in education, finding work and marriage proposals tend to upset or disorient her and in the end instead of finding reasons to live she finds how different she is to others and this cements her choice to die.

Then the book looks into the world of treating mental illness, the good and the bad. This is where the book moves into the territory similar to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in particular a look at 1950 psychiatric treatments. In this part there seems to be three treatment types used within the book; talking, injections of insulin and then the dreaded electroshock therapy. The treatment is meant to clear the mind entirely and after her first electroshock treatment Esther was unable to think about knives. The treatment was doing more damage than good, especially to her intellect.

I went into this book thinking there might have been some psychological elements but  that this was mainly a novel about feminism. It is to some extent but what I got was so much more; I was really impressed with this novel and really enjoyed the journey it took me. I feel like kicking myself for not reading this sooner. A novel about a protagonist slipping into depression is normally right up my alley but I’m a little perplexed about the ending. Overall this is a masterpiece and well worth reading.


Factotum by Charles Bukowski

Posted March 2, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Factotum by Charles BukowskiTitle: Factotum (Goodreads)
Author: Charles Bukowski
Published: Ecco, 1975
Pages: 205
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

A perpetually unemployed alcoholic. Henry Chinaski drifts through the seedy city streets of lower-class LA in search of a job. Factotum takes place in 1944 and follows the life of Chinaski in his search for a job that will not separate him from his writing. He is consistently rejected by the only publishing house he respects but he is driven by the knowledge that he could do better than the authors they publish.

When they call Charles Bukowski’s Factotum a beer-soaked, deliciously degenerate novel they are not lying. Bukowski is known for the literary movement Dirty Realism; a movement that often focuses on transgressive fiction in a very raw and interesting way. The willingness to try and portray forbidden behaviours and shock readers is what makes Factotum such a great read.

Henry Chinaski is Charles Bukowski alter ego so you suspect this is a semi-autobiographical novel that tries to capture not only his uncompromising love for writing but the isolation and loneliness he must feel. The emotional honesty that pours out in this book is both heart-breakingly beautiful but also very refreshing. I’ve yet to find a novel that displays that kind of reality in the way Bukowski does.

I really want to read more books by Charles Bukowski, I’m trying to track down Ham on Rye but my library doesn’t have it and my semi book buying ban for the year really makes it difficult to obtain. I really look forward to reading it, as I was recommended both books by a reliable source. I’m sure Post Office, Hollywood or Pulp will be worth reading but since I was recommended Ham on Rye I really want that to be my next dip into Bukowski’s mind, but maybe it won’t turn out that way.

Factotum is gritty and raw; I enjoyed everything about it and it was a quick read that I really didn’t want to end. Henry Chinaski is a great character; his low-life urbanity and alcoholism makes him a great guide into the seedy underbelly. I would love to know what Charles Bukowski’s other novels are like; do any of my readers enjoy his works and could maybe recommend something similar?


Monthly Review – December 2012

Posted December 31, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

Now that 2012 has come to close, I find myself not reflecting on my year of reading but eagerly anticipating the books I get to read next year. All my reflections of 2012 seemed to have taken place in November. So now I want the Literary Exploration reading challenge to begin.

But as this is the end of December, let me quickly cover the important events of this month. Literary Exploration decided to read a travel/road trip book for the month; the book picked was the beat novel On the Road. This book had a lot of mixed reactions; even people thinking their own travel diaries would be more interesting. I’m now very concerned about what has happened when my wife goes travelling  For me I thought it was an enjoyable look at the beat generation and their ideals. Check out the conversations on Goodreads to find out what people said about this book.

A reminder that in January we will be reading Shadow of the Wind; I love this book and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the discussions will be like. I still haven’t decided if I want to reread it yet or wait till the series has finished before rereading it in its entirety. Either way, I look forward to hearing people’s thoughts.

As for my personal reading, I focused on reading non-fiction this month; well I started off that way but I got distracted. I’ve read some great books this month including; By the Book, a Readers Guide to Life which was a fascinating look at the author’s reading journey. Also I tried some dirty realism with Factotum by Charles Bukowski, a raw and gritty semi autobiographical novel which I highly recommend. What were your highlights of this month? Did you read anything great?

Monthly Reading

  • By the Book, A Reader’s Guide to Life by Ramona Koval
  • Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin
  • Factotum by Charles Bukowski
  • Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
  • The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • Through the Window by Julian Barnes
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami