4 books about the unquiet mind, brought to you by us at 4th Estate.
‘Where is my mind, Where is my mind’
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
When I read this for the first time as an angsty, kohl-eyed teen, Sylvia Plath was my idol. Her words hit me like bullets, every paragraph a stifled scream – and I found all that simmering discontent rather poetic. Reading it again as an adult, I broke through that beautiful surface to encounter the stifling tenets that make up Esther Greenwood’s life – impossible expectations of women, crippling institutional health systems and a punishing psyche – you’ll leave this book choking for air.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Who really is mad? The woman in the attic, or the man who locked her up in there? In this prelude to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the ghoulish Bertha is rescued from her thankless role as the governess’s tormentor and is made instead a creature of flesh and blood, as well as the victim of Rochester’s delusions. Wide Sargasso Sea is a masterpiece of post-colonial literature, and a harrowing exploration of madness and femininity.
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
A book about a madness that wasn’t. Edinburgh in the 1930s, and the Lennox family are worried about their daughter Esme. A headstrong, outspoken and unruly child, she rarely does what she’s told and is oblivious to social conventions. Flash to the modern day, and a young woman called Iris receives a disturbing phone call about a great-aunt she never knew existed. Veering from the unsettling to the outright sinister, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is about the demonization of eccentricity, and the shackling of the unconventional.
Franny & Zooey by J. D. Salinger
In a fancy lunch room Franny’s boyfriend Lane is self-indulgently musing on the idea of getting his college paper published. Franny isn’t really listening, nor is she eating; she’s smoking, sweating and feeling faint. She’s more interested in the book she’s taken to carrying, The Way of a Pilgrim and internalizing the Jesus Prayer. In their family apartment her brother Zooey is tasked with getting to the bottom of Franny’s emotional breakdown. A short story and novella brought together in one book, in these exquisite set pieces Salinger once again revisits the inimitable Glass family, the child prodigies now dealing with the pressure of their enquiring and unquiet minds.
Words by Tara Al Azzawi
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