Bitter Fame was soon garnering some powerfully bad notices, especially that of A. Alvarez in the New York Review of Books. Alvarez, the author of one of the most influential pieces on Plath, in his study of suicide, The Savage God, had some special, personal cards to deal, as have so many others Plath left behind. Because Malcolm's great theme is treachery--that of the interviewer, the journalist, the teller of just about any tale--the Plath mess seemed a perfect fit, and she decided to become a player, too. In 1991, Malcolm was having lunch with Olwyn Hughes in North London, 28 years to the day on which the poet died.
This is only one of the coincidences in The Silent Woman, a postmodern biography par excellence, which is less about the drama of Plath's life and still controversial death than about their continuing effect on the living. For Malcolm, all cards are wild, each one revealing more complexity, human cravenness, and, above all, brilliantly playful aperçus about human agency and writing's deceptions. I look forward to the dictionary of quotations that foregrounds the elegant "The pleasure of hearing ill of the dead is not a negligible one, but it pales before the pleasure of hearing ill of the living." And then there's, "Memory is notoriously unreliable; when it is intertwined with ill will, it may be monstrously unreliable. The 'good' biographer is supposed to be able to discriminate among the testimonies of witnesses and have his antennae out for tendentious distortions, misrememberings, and outright lies." It's clear that Malcolm doesn't see herself as a "good" biographer--she openly declares her allegiance, but is more than capable of changing it and of showing her cards. Or is she? In the end, The Silent Woman is a stunning inquiry into the possibility of ever really knowing anything save that "the game continues."
What you get here is an interesting book that engages the reader and at times almost reads like a novel.
Malcolm's book is a compelling look at the process of writing a biography, as well as an interesting biography of Plath's and Hughes's relationship in itself.
The book is rather pointless in the end because, as she acknowledges with her usual candor, Janet Malcolm is not really very interested in poetry.
An unexpected page turner, a literary who-done-it in which everyone is implicated even the writer herself.Published 4 months ago by Bronwyn Sprague
I really liked the way the author looked at the Plath story through the lense of the limitations of biography. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
This book is the most honest Plath book I have read. It is direct and straight forward. It reveals a lot about Ted Hughes sister and puts her in a better light than other books I... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Robbie Byrd
Janet Malcolm is always very interesting, thoughtful, entertaining and in an understated way quite a stylist. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Semon Strobos
This is a very good, perceptive, entertaining book. It is also a fairly malicious and, in the end, rather pointless one. Read morePublished 16 months ago by A Customer
"The Silent Woman" is a fascinating examination of the many biographers who have latched onto the life and death of writer Sylvia Plath. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Jamakaya
A really original investigation into the whole idea of biography and thus the whole idea of being a person. Read morePublished on November 1, 2012 by Brian
Malcolm's certainly has important insights into the writing of biography. But her effort to make the biographers the villains of the piece fails because she assumes, in her title,... Read morePublished on March 25, 2012 by Carl Rollyson