Canongate. Nov. 2022. 304p. tr. from Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida. ISBN 9781838855963. $28. F
DEBUT Swedish YA author Cullhed has written a sophisticated stunner of a novel with Sylvia Plath as the main character. In the months before her suicide, Plath is heavily pregnant with her second child and stuck in a Devonshire village as husband Ted Hughes slowly extricates himself from their marriage. The novel is all interiority; clearly a Plath expert, Cullhed is in control of not just facts and dates but the tone, even the vocabulary, of Plath’s voice. We are in Plath’s head as she attempts to balance wifely expectations—constant childcare, gardening, cooking the Sunday roast—with her own desire for recognition and fame, always in competition with Hughes. She edits her Bell Jar manuscript and writes her Ariel poems in stolen moments and manic bursts. Lurking beneath it all is her madness, driving away Hughes and the remains of her support system. Her interior monologue is so intense it’s hard to take, no less so because we know what’s coming.
VERDICT Cullhed’s rendering of Plath’s voice will haunt readers. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Sylvia Plath, feminist fiction, and powerful prose.
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