Ninth Kingdom conveys a sense of Lady Lazarus limbering up ... A sinister mood prevails ... The story bears a shivery likeness to a tale by the Italian writer Dino Buzzati, originally published in English in 1965, about a passenger who grows convinced that his train is speeding toward an unnamed catastrophe ... The tale contains the seeds of the writer Plath would become. There is a raw revulsion and disconnection in it ... In Plath’s descriptions, reality has been exhausted by a churning mind. Mary defamiliarizes the ordinary...and finds no space too grand or airy for claustrophobia ... Both character and author may feel themselves to be in motion without purpose, on a train to nowhere, yet they do not dare resist ... Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom is the type of story that is often called dreamlike, but it comes nearer to the experience of being trapped in a nightmare.
Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom is clumsy, no getting around that—Plath has a heavy hand, and the novice fiction writer’s conviction that elaborate description will render her world real ... And yet the story is stirring, in sneaky, unexpected ways ... It’s unabashedly Freudian (and Plath herself seemed ambivalent about its merits), but look carefully and there’s a new angle here—on how, and why, we read Plath today ... It is not the familiar story about a heroine and her solitary triumph but a story about aid—the aid women can provide each other; and aid that is possible only from other generations, from those who know something of the journey.
Like in the prolific letters Plath wrote to her mother and her therapist—a huge bulk of which were made public last year—Plath’s attention to detail is remarkable ... The experience of reading Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom cannot be separated from what we know is coming: an imminent doom made all the more horrific by the blissful ignorance of the other passengers on the train ... One can see the foreboding precursors in Mary Ventura to the book for which [Plath] has been immortalized ... In The Ninth Kingdom, though, Mary manages to resist the darkness that lies ahead.
The prose is not as radiant as in her 1963 novel, The Bell Jar, published 11 years later, but there is still plenty to admire: a masterly ratcheting up of tension over 40 pages; short, simple sentences that slip between the ribs ... here are invigorating references to hard bright reds, dun browns and uneasy blues. Yet the conclusion of the tale disappoints (I wanted more of the ninth kingdom, whatever it was). The story is essential reading for diehard fans of Plath’s work, but is perfectly missable otherwise.
I can’t actually say that Mary Ventura is worth reading now by anyone other than Plath completists. This story is very recognizably a piece of juvenalia ... It’s a learning story, the kind of story you write to figure out exactly what kind of writer you are becoming ... reading Mary Ventura now, with full knowledge of Plath’s biography, it’s difficult to read Mary’s decision to get off the train as anything but a suicide allegory ... with periodic glimpses of the genius she would become in occasional perfect sentences, it is compelling ... But in and of itself, it is too small and too slight to bear the weight of being sold as the publishing event of the past 50 years. It’s a student story.
It is a short but darkly powerful tale about the struggle to control one’s fate, especially if one is female ... Mythic and allegorical, the story is unlike anything else Plath is known to have written ... But while [Plath] was self-absorbed and fatally sad, she also gave us a cynical voice capable of demonstrating the lines between hope and reality. She transformed that voice in a way that examined womanhood, innocence, identity—and even death—as no other writer of her time did. And it’s all there in a 64-page short story, newly gifted to her followers.
As a stand-alone book, it is underwhelming. But as yet more evidence of Plath’s precocity, it is compelling. For those who approach all of her work with a kind of morbid curiosity, they will find plenty of portentous signs of Plath’s disgust with the artifice of life. Her grim fate inevitably freights all of her work with a sickening and slightly titillating sense of dread. From the start, Plath manages to make this story feel creepy and strange ... This is not a subtle story, but it is an interesting one ... Plath is too clever to offer easy answers. Even so...the reader is left with a story that feels like an awkwardly apt artefact from an author who was too horrified by her own journey to see it through.
This emblematic tale packs a punch in its 60 short pages, made all the more powerful by the knowledge of Plath’s troubled marriage and eventual suicide. Combining classic themes of her later work with a smattering of Shirley Jackson and a touch of Margaret Atwood, and being published in this #metoo and Handmaid’s Tale climate, the story feels as relevant today as the day it was written.