Category Archives: Books

The Psychological Relevance of ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

The motto of Holocaust literature, in its horrifying but electrifyingly necessary recount of the suffering of Jews particularly in concentration camps, is ‘never forget’. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, wrote his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ in the spirit of not only remembering the Holocaust but also in moving on, with his philosophical musing and discussion regarding his own form of existential analysis called logotherapy.

Essentially, the purpose of this book is describe and analyse the psychological reactions of the average concentration camp prisoner as well as to elucidate the development of logotherapy stemming from Frankl’s own experiences in such concentration camps where he was separated from and lost his father, mother, brother and wife, having been ‘stripped to naked existence’ (Frankl, 1984 pp.7). These experiences influenced Frankl’s philosophical thoughts which were the foundation upon which logotherapy was developed as a means of therapeutic intervention.

The book is divided into two parts i.e. ‘Experiences in a Concentration Camp’ and ‘Logotherapy in a Nutshell’. In the first part, Frankl narrates various experiences as he was transported from different concentration camps including the daunting Auschwitz to less perilous rest camps. One of Frankl’s major arguments in this part of the book is that the psychological reactions to life in a concentration camp are summarily divided into three distinct phases.

In the period following an inmate’s formal admission to the camp, the characteristic symptom is that of shock in this first phase and under certain circumstances it may even precede the formal admission. The second phase, when a prisoner is entrenched in camp life, is that of apathy or the blunting of one’s emotions which are primarily centred on preserving one’s life. Apathy, notes Frankl, acts as a protective shell for the inmate who was constantly surrounded by an environment characterised by perpetual illness, violence and maltreatment. Finally, the third phase is that of depersonalisation, upon liberation from the death camps, which is described as ‘unreal, unlikely, as in a dream’ (Frankl, 1984, p. 96).

The second part of the book focuses on the concepts and principles of logotherapy.  According to Alport (1984), Dr. Frankl asks patients who have suffered from torment why they do not commit suicide and based on their responses he identifies something worth tying their lives to. For a widow, her life could be tied to her children or for a struggling artist it could be his or her especial talent. Hence the object and challenge of logotherapy is ‘to weave these slender threads of a broken life into a pattern of meaning and responsibility’ (Frankl, 1984 pp.7).

While Man’s Search for Meaning was written in a different historical period with a climate quite different from that of the modern world today, it still remains relevant and can be connecting to various fields including health psychology, clinical psychology and social psychology.

The impact of hope for the future on one’s survival was described in the novel where it was described that a senior warden had a dream that the Second World War would end on March 30th, 1945 and this dream gave him hope that he would be free. Yet, when the date drew closer it became apparent that the war would not end and they would not be liberated. This was a devastating blow to the senior warden’s hope and belief, making him vulnerable to illness and unfortunately he succumbed and passed away on March 31st, 1945. The same ramifications of mental strength and hope can be seen in the fight against cancer. In health psychology studies, it has been found that chemotherapy is only effective in a certain portion of cancer patients since their psychological makeup such as depression and hopelessness affect their fight against the disease. This is how Frankl’s experience is reminiscent of the biopsychosocial model in health psychology where health is determined by not merely biological factors but also psychological factors of an individual.

Frankl also made keen observations regarding prisoner identity. He wrote, “The authorities were interested only in the captives’ numbers. These numbers were often tattooed on their skin, and also had to be sewn to a certain spot on the trousers, jacket, or coat. Any guard who wanted to make a charge against a prisoner just glanced at his number; he never asked for his name.” (Frankl, 1984, p. 19). This observation is relevant to the study of identity transformation among prisoners, applicable to the modern world. In fact, this has been a studied in the famous Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo wherein the jailers would command the prisoners to repeat their respective numbers, drilling it until the number was synonymous to their selves and some prisoners equated their numbers to their identity so quickly that they even began to sign their letters using their numbers as opposed to their names (Alvarez, 2015). This synonymy is not necessarily only in prison set ups but also in large educational institutions such as universities where students are assigned roll numbers for official purposes and on spending significant time identifying themselves through these roll numbers, there may be identity suspension.

Frankl maintains that one can remain true to his or herself and find meaning within their life. However, he contradicts this by writing, “…I saw the plain truth and did what marked the culminating point of the first phase of my psychological reaction: I struck out my whole former life.” (Frankl, 1984, p.27). Can it not be the case that there are dual lives and respective identities at play and that meaning in pre-prison life can be different to post prison meaning? Schmid and Jones (1991) studied prison identity and found that there indeed was a duality of selves i.e the coexistence and conflict between an individual’s ‘true identity’ prior to being admitted into a maximum security facility and the prisoner’s ‘false identity’ within the prison. Hence the stability of meaning is not guaranteed since even the concept of self is not a single stable entity.

Suffice to say, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is an interesting read for psychology majors because of the plethora of connections that can be made to other theories and phenomena in the field and in understanding how  Viktor Frankl’s harrowing experiences have been transformed into a means of therapy, perhaps his own sublimation of personal trauma for the betterment of society through his existential philosophy.

Advertisements

We need to talk about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Dear J.K Rowling,

I sincerely enjoyed with every fibre of my being the series you created, so much so that it has defined me as a person today. I dressed up as Hermione for Halloween two years in a row, felt the crushing disappointment of having waited in line for copies of the books and tickets to the movies to no avail, re-read the series as a college student looking for a window to the past and I thank you for all of this and more. Having grown up in the Potter generation and proudly identifying as a Potterhead, my curiosity was piqued upon hearing about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so I went out and bought a copy the day it was released. I regret to say that I wished I hadn’t. I need to tell you that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was an utter disappointment and I feel betrayed that this has even been performed on stage much less published.

This script cannot and should not be marketed as the eighth story in the Harry Potter series, and since it has been monstrously tagged as such, I feel the need to compare it to a gangrene infected foot that needs to be cut off in order to preserve the rest of the body i.e the original series. The Cursed Child seems like a parasitic invasion of  your wonderfully crafted  Wizarding World with your stamp of approval which makes your judgement highly questionable. It does nothing but pander to fan expectations, reading like author-approved fan fiction with co-authors pitching in. You’ve made your money and now Cursed Child is a further ploy to rake in extra cash from the fans who are easily susceptible to dish it out.

It’s a light read in the sense that I cannot for the life of me take it seriously and while I read it I couldn’t help but ponder over the poor trees that had to be felled in order for this to be printed. This parallels a  nicotine patch for smokers, anything Potter related is more than welcome especially after the number of years that have passed since the 7th book was released. But I want the damn cigarettes not the nauseating nicotine gum laced with cinnamon that is The Cursed Child. If I can’t have the real thing, I don’t want anything else.

It’s very obvious that you’re trying to keep Harry Potter relevant, what with all the new snippets of information regarding the series and new short stories via your Twitter feed and Pottermore, but the fact is it needs to be left alone. We never forgot, we’re all still at Hogwarts after all these years.

sincerely,

an outraged Ravenclaw

p.s Weasley is our king. You have successfully destroyed one of my favourite characters a.k.a Ron, having reduced him to nothing but mere comedic relief and filtering out all substance. You have created a character I love and utterly mistreated him, something I don’t quite know how to forgive. 


Also, dear reader this article is so relevant. Give it a read, if you agree with the above epistolary rant.

Book Review- Shutter Island

Rating: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis: The year is 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new -partner, Chuck Aule, have come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Multiple-murderess Rachel Solando is loose somewhere on this barren island, despite having been kept in a locked cell under constant surveillance. As a killer hurricane bears relentlessly down on them, a strange case takes on even darker, more sinister shades–with hints of radical experimentation, horrifying surgeries, and lethal countermoves made in the cause of a covert shadow war. No one is going to escape Shutter Island unscathed, because nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is remotely what it seems.

 

The golden rule is to read the book before even bothering to watch the movie, although I’ve been known to occasionally break that rule. Admittedly, this is one of those rare times and as I’ve learned in the past, there is a certain proactive interference in how you interpret and imagine the story. Thankfully, when it comes to Shutter Island, the book and film are almost synonymous.

The suspense was loaded with questions surrounding the whereabouts of Rachel Solando, the missing patient, Teddy’s past, Dr. Cawley’s masked intentions and what exactly is going on at Ashecliffe Hospital. The mystery builds as Teddy and Chuck investigate, starting with a missing patient to wondering if they will ever be able to get themselves off the island. Sometimes, it’s as if Teddy doesn’t care, his personal connection to the case making it difficult to leave the past behind.

Character-wise, there was little diversity to look forward to. Dr. Cawley was a one-dimensional character as was Chuck, whose only redeeming quality is the levity he balances out Teddy’s intensity with. What propelled the suspenseful plot of Shutter Island, clearly, was Teddy’s candour in his unintentional exploration of the depths of his mind and even his demons. Peppered throughout his quest to solve the mystery surrounding the island, are thoughts concerning his insecurity on being partnered with Chuck who was good with people, his latent suicidal ideation coming to the forefront, and his inability to let go of the horrors of the war and his late wife Dolores.

This twisted romance acting as a shadowing prologue is both painful and wonderful. Teddy’s longing for his wife Dolores is ensconced in ache and ghostly reminiscence, constantly showcasing the wrecked remnants of a man that Teddy really is. I was pulled in by Lehane’s writing style with descriptions like “Those eyes, Teddy thought. Even frozen in time, they howled.” and “…he held her and held her and wept his terrible love into her faded dress.” making me turn page after page, despite knowing the ending.

Not only did Shutter Island deliver in terms of writing style and suspense, it was intriguing because of the themes it tackled, including human experimentation and mental illness.

If you’re fascinated with psychology, I’d say that this book does well to represent the time it was set in, when pharmacology was on the rise and lobotomies were on the fast track to extinction or at least used only as a last resort. At times, the spew of information on topics such as  narcotic neuroleptics and the war between the different schools of thought on psychological disorders can sound dry as if it were being taught to you, an amateur effort on the part of the author in convincing the readers, “Yes, I’ve done my research and here’s everything I know.”

Also,having an avid interest in Holocaust literature, I was intrigued by the parallels between Shutter Island’s human experimentation with its patients and that of the Nazis with the Jews.  In light of this underpinning, the Nuremberg Code is mentioned a significant number of times, which is fascinating to read up on considering how it has shaped our modern approach to ethical conduction of research. 

Overall, I’d recommend reading this book, particularly for its ending which may seem obvious but is fascinating in how the events unfold. Without divulging too much, I find that its ambiguity is perhaps the best part, leaving you to ponder over what it means. For some people, it is quite clear yet there other ways of interpreting the ending which establishes the fact that even after the last page Shutter Island isn’t done with you yet.

Always

Years ago, we lost Severus Snape but this week we lost the man who did his character utmost justice, in all his complexities and intricacies.

Through out the years, I have always been skeptical of the hero-worship Snape has garnered, his unnecessarily nasty behaviour toward students being justified because he was bullied as a child and the fact that he protected Harry. I don’t particularly agree with the fact that he was ‘good’ all along, but that is what makes Snape more complex. I believe he was always in a grey area between evil and good (where we all quite often stand), with his bitterness and abusive nature drawing him toward his darkest self and then his love for Lily and moral actions drawing him away. He may not have always been the hero he was in the end, and that’s what makes his choice to do the right thing all the more important in the midst of moral ambiguity he found himself surrounded in. He grew into the hero he was meant to be; his salient transformation was everything. It was difficult and it broke our hearts.

What is even more heart breaking is watching Alan Rickman describe Snape’s character, demonstrating his deeper understanding of him than what we as readers or as an audience did. This is precisely why no one could have possible played him half or nearly a smidge as well as he did. But just as Dumbledore said, ” To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” So I hope Alan Rickman is on his next great adventure.

Ron Weasley, the Mistreated Character

As a little girl, I identified with Hermione, dressing up as her for Halloween for two years. I’d beam when people would tell me I look a lot like her (not Emma Watson but Hermione the character) because of my bushy hair (which I used to detest before the comparison). I still do identify with Hermione but now also with Ron which is why they are two of my favourite characters.

I cannot fathom the palpable hatred directed at Ron nor do I understand the unquestioning admiration Hermione seems to receive. I suppose it’s the movies’ fault. Both characters are well fleshed out in the books but less so in the film adaptations.

For a book reader, it is easy to see that the films have dissected Ron’s character, surgically removed his good traits and transplanted them into Hermione’s character which sadly, destroyed both of them, yet Ron more than Hermione in the end. While Hermione Granger is the shining epitome of perfection stood atop a pedestal, Ron is made to look like someone who is fit for nothing better than to clean said pedestal, which is infuriating. Why fix something that isn’t broken? (Yes, that question is directed at Kloves more than anyone else.)

The fact of the matter is that Ron was never meant to be a sidekick, only good for a few one-liners and comic relief. He was much more than that in the books. Yes, Ron is funny, but in the books we laugh with Ron while in the movies we laugh at him. He’s not the slap stick comedian we’ve seen on screen (and I mean no offense to Rupert Grint, he does so well with what little he’s given), he’s witty, subtle and sarcastic, one of my main reasons for liking him so much.

Not only this, but he is very real. He’s poor and has an inferiority complex, but also kind, observant and quite intelligent, though appearing dumb in the movies. (It would surprise people to know that he’s better than Harry in academics.) In the first film when entrapped by Devil’s Snare he is an absolute wreck while in the book he is reasonably still and tells Hermione to conjure up flames while Harry struggles more and more. In the second book, it was Harry who asked Moaning Myrtle insensitively how a throwing a book can hurt her it’d just go right through her while Ron was given that line in the films. Why? Because Ron was backed into the sidekick corner and left there.

Movie-viewers missed out on a wonderful transformation which is the saddest of all. His growth over the series is demonstrative of the fact that heroes can make mistakes and learn from them instead of being always in the right. The same boy who started off indifferent to elf rights became the boy who suggested to save the house elves when everyone else forgot, and gave his own clothes and socks for Dobby to be buried in. That is growth.

Besides, one of my main reasons for enjoying Harry Potter so much was Harry and Ron’s friendship. Yes, we all seem to debate over who Hermione should have ended up with but I was always here for Harry and Ron which, unfortunately, wasn’t well portrayed in the films. There’s a reason why Ron is the one person in the world Harry would miss most. He was his very first friend, the closest thing Harry had to family, never thinking twice to offer his room and food and everything he had to Harry, which was pretty much all he had.

Ron was the one, who was in blinding pain and stood up on his broken leg to fiercely defend his best friend from a serial killer in PoA.

“No, Harry!” Hermione gasped in a petrified whisper; Ron, however, spoke to Black.

“If you want to kill Harry, you’ll have to kill us, too!” he said fiercely, though the effort of standing up had drained him of still more colour, and he swayed slightly as he spoke.

Something flickered in Black’s shadowed eyes.

“Lie down, “ he said quietly to Ron. “You will damage that leg even more.”

“Did you hear me?” Ron said weakly, though he was clinging painfully to Harry to stay upright. “You’ll have to kill all three of us!”

(Infuriatingly, this entire line was given to Hermione while Ron was a blubbering mess in the background, while in the books Hermione is the one who was terrified.)

Ron Weasley, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger

While many criticise Ron for leaving Harry and Hermione in DH, I think what is often overlooked is the gravity of his departure. Ron is loyal (his Patronus is a Jack-Russell terrier, for god’s sake) and this isn’t shown much in the films which is why it didn’t have the same impact. He is the one who always defends Harry and Hermione from other people.

In CoS, he is ready to kill Malfoy for wanting the Heir of Slytherin to attack Hermione.

“I’m quite surprised the Mudbloods haven’t all packed their bags by now,” Malfoy went on. “Bet you five Galleons the next one dies. Pity it wasn’t Granger…”

The bell rang at that moment, which was lucky; at Malfoy’s last words, Ron had leapt off his stool, and in the scramble to collect bags and books, his attempts to reach Malfoy went unnoticed.

“Let me at him,” Ron growled, as Harry and Dean hung onto his arms. “ I don’t care, I don’t need my wand, I’m going to kill him with my bare hands-”

Not to mention when he shouts at Snape, their scariest professor, in Hermione’s defense and gets detention (scrubbing bed pans) for it.

“That is the second time you have spoken out of turn, Miss Granger,” said Snape coolly. “Five more points from Gryffindor for being an insufferable know-it-all.”

Hermione went very red, put down he rhand and stared at the floor with her eyes full of tears….Ron, who told Hermione she was a know-it-all at least twice a week, said loudly, “You asked us a question and she knows the answer! Why ask if you don’t want to be told?”

The class knew instantly he’d gone too far…

In the movies, after Snape snaps at Hermione, Ron just says “He’s got a point, you know.” which he would NEVER say. I think Ron would rather face a spider than agree with Snape.

These are just a few instances of how the movies have mucked up his character and slowly, as Ron fan, it kills you.

Book Ron is that friend who would defend you no matter what. To desert people whose side he’s unfailingly on shows just how the Horcrux impacted him. Ron wasn’t a spoiled brat or cowardly, he was dealing with his insecurities and as soon as he left, he said he wanted to come back. We often forget that we fight with our friends and some of them actually walk out on us, never to return but the ones that come back are true. And Ron is nothing if not a true friend. He’s the sort of person you want in your corner, always good to be around, even when not doing anything in particular.

Overall, I think the movies outstripped movie Ron of a lot of character points and this makes me feel bad for Rupert Grint who really likes the character he plays. He said it himself, “But, the truth is that Ron is my hero. He’s always there for his friends – sometimes belligerently, but there nevertheless. And no matter how scared he may be, he will put aside his fears to support and protect the people he loves. To me, that represents true courage.”

Too bad we never got to see him play the real Ron, it would have been fantastic.

(I have a lot more to say about this issue and I tend to rant a lot about book Ron vs. movie Ron but this pretty much sums it all up.)

Reading Challenge 2016

Hello! So last year was a big reading year, but this time I decided to scale it back and pledge to read 25 books. Also, if anyone on Goodreads is interested in joining the book club ‘Our Shared Shelf’ in support of the  UN’s HeforShe Campaign, please do! It’s moderated by Emma Watson where a single book highlighting feminism is selected each month and the last week is set for discussion, so I’m really excited to participate in it, however I can! Happy reading to everyone!

p.s Books marked with an asterisk are re-reads 🙂

January

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K Rowling*
  • Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
  • Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

February

  • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
  • The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

March

  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

April

  • Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

May

  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events- The Bad Beginning*
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events- The Reptile Room*
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events- The Wide Window*
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events- The Miserable Mill*

June

  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn*
  • My life had stood a loaded gun by Emily Dickinson
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K Rowling*

July

  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

August

  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
  • The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
  • The Perks of Being Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky*

September

  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events- The Austere Academy*
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events- The Ersatz Elevator*

October

  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

December

  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini *

25/25 books read

Book Review- Finding Audrey

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: An anxiety disorder disrupts fourteen-year-old Audrey’s daily life. She has been making slow but steady progress with Dr. Sarah, but when Audrey meets Linus, her brother’s gaming teammate, she is energized. She connects with him. Audrey can talk through her fears with Linus in a way she’s never been able to do with anyone before. As their friendship deepens and her recovery gains momentum, a sweet romantic connection develops, one that helps not just Audrey but also her entire family.

This is the first Sophie Kinsella book that I’ve read and it was a pleasant surprise. Finding Audrey is a cute and quick book ( I read it in a day) which is fun and light-hearted while dealing with heavier issues like anxiety and depression.

“To put you out of your misery, here’s the full diagnosis. Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Depressive Episodes.”

As a psychology student, I’ve learned about these disorders, their symptoms and treatment options. That’s why I avoid reading books dealing with mental health issues out of the fact that they misrepresent the reality of mental illness. However,  Audrey’s insight is humorous and real enough to believe which means Kinsella has done her research. The therapy sessions with Dr. Sarah mirror genuine techniques and valuable information for those suffering from anxiety and depression.

Also, some of the the things Audrey said were so on point.

“I am owed so much laughter. Sometimes I hope I’m building up a stockpile of missing laughs, and when I’ve recovered they’ll all come exploding out in one gigantic fit that lasts twenty-four hours.”

While it may sound like romance is the key aspect of the book, it really isn’t. There’s just as much emphasis on Audrey’s family as there is on Linus. However, what’s not very convincing is how Audrey’s recovery speeds up after meeting Linus which misleads people into falsely thinking, once again, that a boyfriend will fix all your problems. However, I appreciate that Kinsella wrote Linus as a balanced character, with moments of understanding as well as frustration. If he’d been a sweetheart who has endless patience and cheesy lines I’d have given up on this book. One moment that stood out in particular was when he shouted at Audrey, “Why can’t you just snap out of it?”, highlighting exactly what you DO NOT say to someone suffering from a mental illness.

However, Linus’ rhubarb analogy was spot on, uplifting and apt. This conversation via little notes was my favourite part of the book:

Linus: It won’t be for ever. You’ll be in the dark for as long as it takes and then you’ll come out.

Audrey: You think?

Linus: My aunt grows special rhubarb in dark sheds. They keep it dark and warm all winter and harvest it by candlelight and it’s the best stuff. She sells it for a fortune, btw.

Audrey: So what, I’m rhubarb?

Linus: Why not? If rhubarb needs time in the dark, maybe you do too.

Yet, my favourite character was neither Audrey nor Linus but actually Frank, Audrey’s brother.  In fact, Audrey’s whole family was nice to read about.

However, if I could change one thing about the book, I’d provide a little more backstory on what happened to Audrey and the other girls who bullied her. Yet, in a way, the fact that it wasn’t clarified helped keep the focus on the future instead of the past which is the motto of recovery.

Overall, I enjoyed this book with its humour and sensitivity and am glad to have read that those suffering from anxiety and panic attacks have found the book just as enjoyable.

The Importance of Illustrations proven by Harry Potter

IMG_0441IMG_0444

Art and words blend so well and they are two of my favourite things. Now imagine how delighted I was to hear that the Harry Potter series is being treated to a glorious illustrated makeover from Jim Kay! Since Harry Potter started out as a children’s series, it only seems fitting.

With each book in the series’ illustrated edition being published every year, I have six more years of looking forward to these lovely editions.

If you’re one to crib about how the characters in the illustrations look different than the actors in the movies, this may not be your cup of tea. I’d read an article about how Jim Kay drew from real life inspiration, happening upon some children he thought he could base characters like Ron, Harry and Hermione. Kay has illustrated the characters and settings as he envisioned them which is delightful since they feel more true to the descriptions in the book particularly in the case of Ron.

HP Illustrated1

Of all the illustrations, my favourites were the ones containing glowing elements. I was immediately struck by how beautiful the ghosts were illustrated, like a streak of laser lights dancing across the room not to mention the unicorn in the Forbidden Forest  reminding me of a lighthouse in a dark sea.

IMG_0463

IMG_0454

IMG_0455

Suffice to say I find the whole process fascinating! The attention to detail is inspiring and brings so much of the series to life.

Not only are illustrations ogle-worthy but it’s been known that they are useful in educating children. At a young age, a child tends to think in non-abstract terms and with the help of illustrations, his or her imagination can develop as well as help them associate words with objects and more complex actions with sentences.  They’re also important for capturing the attention of a child because of their visual appeal.

IMG_0446

IMG_0465

IMG_0460

Art Journal- Tsundoku

So after pinning a number of things to my art journal board on Pinterest and getting a fair idea of the process, I decided I’d start off with a Japanese word I found and wanted to illustrate for a while now.

Tsundoku (n)- the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other such unread books

tsundoku3 tsundoku2

tsundoku1

I often go on book buying sprees only to leave my purchases unread in the shelf and sometimes I buy some books just to own them. For example, I’d read the pdf of The Bell Jar a while ago but when I’d gone to a bookstore recently with my friend, I couldn’t resist the urge to buy the book and keep it with me in paperback format. I don’t plan on re-reading it any time soon but that doesn’t matter or factor into the reason why I bought it. I just wanted it in my bookshelf if only to give company to the many others.

IMG_0369

Anyone else engage in tsundoku?

-VD

Book Review- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Rating: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity.

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

In high school, I’d read a Sylvia Plath poem and remember my english teacher telling us how the poet had stuck her head in an oven and killed herself. Then, in college we discussed her many attempts at committing suicide, digressing grossly from the poem we were meant to read. Plath is well known for her tragic suicide and so the first thing that comes to mind when I hear her name is just that.

Having read about her life, I was aware that The Bell Jar would not be an easy read but yet, that still didn’t prepare me for this raw, uncompromising narrative of Esther Greenwood’s very real battle with depression. Esther’s outlook is cynical, but realistic in its questioning of everyday existence and trivialities what with the need to go through the motions when in the end we all perish anyway. The symbolism used is not excessive nor is the writing flowery like you’d expect of a poet, demonstrated in the fig tree symbol:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor… and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

The writing isn’t emotional or steeped in self pity and wallowing which is how depression is  inaccurately portrayed. The novel has more to do with Esther’s thoughts and perceptions which contribute to the feeling of detachment from the self and other. I also appreciate how the protagonist’s depression isn’t justified by traumatic events and explained in that manner. Sometimes people can suffer from depression despite having a decent or wonderful life, just as Esther is living every girl’s dream working at a fashion magazine in New York yet is still unhappy. There isn’t a clear line distinguishing Esther pre and post-breakdown which paints her situation realistically.

What makes Esther’s descent into insanity all the more real is that Plath has suffered the same albeit with the insight to write about it well. When reading the book it’s evident that Esther is Plath’s fictional counterpart, which is why The Bell Jar has been described as semi-autobiographical. If you know about Plath’s life, you can easily draw the parallels between the author and character, an eerily intense merging of fiction and reality. This is as confessional as confessional writing can get. At times, I felt so uncomfortably aware that it was as if I was in Sylvia Plath’s own mind, experiencing what she went through. When Esther sits down to write a novel in the summer saying, “My heroine would be myself, only in disguise. She would be called Elaine. Elaine. I counted the letters on my fingers. There were six letters in Esther, too. It seemed a lucky thing.” I can’t help but wonder if this is what Plath had thought when she began writing the novel herself. (There are six letter in Sylvia too.)

I think it’s also particularly evident in the way Esther’s attempt at committing suicide by taking a large number of sleeping pills and lying under her mother’s house was written. The detached insight with which she writes in can only have come from experience. At times, it’s unsettling how calmly these suicide attempts are described and the fact that they stem from Plath’s own attempts intensifies that discomfort.

The novel also provides a look into how mental illness was perceived and treated in the 50’s and 60’s. The apt title says it all. Bell jars are used in physics to create vacuums and Plath likens this to the feeling of confinement, making the bell jar a symbolic representation of depression. This changed my perspective of mental illness and the timing couldn’t have been better now that I’m interning at a neuropsychiatric hospital. I’ve seen two ECT rounds and was told it wasn’t as terrible as the media makes it out to be now that they administer muscle relaxants and anaesthesia prior to the shocks. But when I’d gotten to the part of the novel where Esther is given her first electric shock therapy, I realised how far psychiatry has come. The novel portrays electric shock therapy, which was in its prime along with lobotomies at the time, in a torturous manner, saying, “…with each flash, a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant.”

Reading this book is a harrowing, emotionally intense experience. While it ends on a hopeful note for Esther with the lifting of the bell jar and a crack of fresh air, the author’s own fate hangs like an ominous epilogue to the book, completed in reality where fiction left off. It’s a difficult read, depressing and thought-provoking all at once. I would be lying if I said the book won’t haunt you once you set it down but…some stories are worth being haunted by. The Bell Jar is one of them.