Review by Kate Jones
Although I was hungry to delve into a previously unread Plath story, I also worried at its quality. I often feel that ‘rediscovered’ material may have been better left alone. I had to question whether there was a good reason it had been originally rejected, so soon into Plath’s writing career.
I have to confess: I loved the story. Though sinister in tone, it has the dark humour and cynicism of The Bell Jar. The story features a young woman, Mary Ventura (the name taken by Plath from a former school friend) as she is pushed into catching a train to the ‘ninth kingdom’ by her parents. As with much of Plath’s poetry, imagery and motifs appear in the text, for example, the constant return to the colour red, referring alternately to blood and lipstick.
Mary is befriended on the train by an older woman who feeds her cryptic suggestions of what awaits her in the ninth kingdom, the furthest stop on the line, and informs her, chillingly, that once there, there can be no return journey.
Critics have suggested, somewhat predictably, that the themes of this short story, written just months before Plath’s first attempted suicide, point towards the ninth kingdom as a dark release into oblivion; the result of a mind consumed by depression and the dark tunnel to death.
I, however, felt there was another interpretation; that of the way young women of the time were pushed by society and their own families toward a life of domesticity, conformity, marriage, and a lack of choice as to their destination. All themes of Plath’s later novel and poetry.
Whichever way you read this short offering from the pen of a young, intelligent and conflicted Plath, her talent burns through, assuring that the literary world lost a genius storyteller far too early.
Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom (2019) is published by Faber Stories.
Kate Jones is a freelance writer, yoga lover and NHS worker from the North of England. Her essays, reviews and flash fiction have appeared in many varied places, including Spelk, Feminartsy and The Short Story.