Music to read by: EW's 'The Bell Jar' playlist
Want to take your reading to the next level? Add a soundtrack.
The best books, like Sylvia Plath’s 1963 depression chronicle The Bell Jar, are totally immersive, submerging you in an unfamiliar world until it starts to feel like home. To take this engagement to the next level, EW will be creating playlists to read along with, matched to different books. Below, your reading companion for Plath’s classic, The Bell Jar.
Hole – “Doll Parts”
Courtney Love sings of insecurity while Esther Greenwood starts to doubt herself as a writer and potential girlfriend.
Joan Baez – “I Will Never Marry”
Esther wants more for herself than to be somebody’s wife, and Joan Baez, with her soprano folk ballad, knows the feeling.
FKA Twigs – “Numbers”
When Esther learns about Buddy’s summer dalliance with a waitress, she’s as furious as FKA twigs, who demands to know, “Was I just a number to you?”
Alt-J – “Fitzpleasure”
Alt-J’s lyrics drift into nonsense as Esther’s abilities to read and write melt away, and her novel lies unfinished.
Radiohead – “Creep”
“I don’t belong here,” Radiohead moans—and Esther begins to feel the same. She doesn’t belong anywhere and feels reality becoming more and more abstract.
Nine Inch Nails – “Only”
As she descends further into the dark corners of her own mind, Trent Reznor’s lines (“There is no you / there is only me”) ring maddeningly true.
Carly Simon – “Alone”
Esther’s thoughts keep coming back to suicide, and she begins “planning a trip all alone,” as Carly Simon crooned in 1971.
Jack White – “Love Is Blindness”
White’s screeching, guitar-heavy U2 cover gives a static edge to Esther’s summer electro-shock treatments.
Damien Rice – “9 Crimes”
Esther’s condition worsens as she contemplates suicide, and Damien Rice’s delicate, haunting lyrics (“Leave me out with the waste / This is not what I do”) reflect her feelings of worthlessness.
Young the Giant – “Cough Syrup”
Still feeling detached from reality, Esther fantasizes about different ways to end her life as Young the Giant’s sings a forlorn tune: “Life’s too short to even care at all.”
The Smiths – “Asleep”
Esther’s sleeping-pill-induced suicide attempt mirrors the drowsy melancholy of The Smiths’ farewell lullaby.
Bastille – “Oblivion”
“Are you going to age with grace?” Bastille asks. Esther is improving, but the sweet lull of oblivion still beckons.
S. Carey – “Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was”
S. Carey’s Radiohead cover hides dark lyrics (“You have turned me into this”) beneath wailing, echoing melodies, just as Esther feels the darkness is still within her, despite her approaching hospital release.
Daughter – “Youth”
The hollowness that lingers after an experience like Esther’s is made concrete in Daughter’s lyrics: “And if you’re still bleeding, you’re the lucky ones / ‘Cause most of our feelings, they are dead and they are gone.”
Gary Jules and Michael Andrews – “Mad World”
As the bell jar looms overhead, the twisted music box tune “Mad World” underscores an ominous ending. We’re borrowing some unsettling, emotional weight from the end of Donnie Darko with this one, but can you blame us?
Stream the playlist on Spotify below, and if you have song suggestions or books you’d like a soundtrack for, leave them in the comments!