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.