Adventures in Paris…
The career of writer and poet Sylvia Plath has taken on a life of its own in the many books, essays and commentary that has followed on in the years since her absence. Best known for her novel The Bell Jar and collections of her poetry, including Ariel, Plath’s turbulent relationship with Ted Hughes and her subsequent suicide have given the writer a veneer of tragedy that has subsequently coloured her work and life.
With several decades of books and articles focussing on the life of Sylvia Plath, it would seem as if there’s little more to say about the writer and poet’s brief but incandescent career.
Dave Haslam might agree on that point, but his approach in his book My Second Home acts as more of a travelogue into Plath’s time in Paris in 1956.
Although now chiefly a writer, Dave Haslam originally established himself as a concert promoter and DJ in 1980s Manchester (including slots at the Haçienda). He’s since penned several books on music, including his Art Decades series (which also includes books on Courtney Love and Keith Haring).
Written as part of that Art Decades series, My Second Home zones in on a key period of Plath’s life at the time. This is prior to her marriage to Ted Hughes and also before her writing career had started on its upward trajectory. It also provides an interesting perspective on Plath’s mood at the time, broken up about her failed relationship with Richard Sassoon, her thoughts on her initial introduction to Ted Hughes as well as her enthusiasm about pursuing a writing career. “Sylvia had recognised that her writing helped build a delicate bridge to assist her in negotiating her way through life” as the book tells it, which is a fairly apt summing up.
The details of Plath’s time in Paris here is meticulous, thanks in part to her own detailed journals, which means we get to know what her meals consisted of, the names of the Parisian streets she wandered down and all the colourful characters she met on her time in the French capital.
At times, this approach can render the text a little dry, but it also helps to paint a picture of a time that’s now lost. It’s a window into a world where the context is given greater weight by the fact that we know how this story ends.
It’s only in the final third that the book starts sparking some poetry of its own. While we know the ending, Haslam gives a potted history of the main points: Plath’s marriage to Hughes, her writing career (which flourished in the final months up to her death) and also, curiously, Hughes’ inability to grasp the vision of Paris that Plath held (as detailed in his 1998 poem ‘Your Paris’).
Wisely, Haslam detours from ending the book on the darkest chapter of Plath’s life, instead inviting the reader to step back to Paris and to look at the city through her eyes. It’s a surprisingly powerful part of the book which will craft a picture that has a vibrance and resonance that stays long after you’ve put the book down.
My Second Home is out now via Cōnfingō Publishing.