Tag Archives: The Catcher in the Rye

Turmoil, trials and trailblazing…a review of The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

“I can’t explain what I mean.

And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.”

J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, p. 110

For me, having finally finished reading The Catcher in the Rye, this quotation goes some way to explaining and encapsulating what Salinger’s novel is about. It’s an unusual book, even in today’s more easygoing and accepting society. When it was first published the novel caused much outrage and received much censorship, although to a modern reader it is not so very shocking. Sure Salinger doesn’t shy away from introducing controversial topics and using language that, in its day, was rather offensive, but I must confess I didn’t find it particularly deplorable or disturbing.

The story greatly put me in mind of Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted which I studied at University. They deal with protagonists from a similar era, from similar backgrounds with similar problems. They both represent that  1950s ‘coming-of-age’ story. Both have narrators who are questioning themselves, both manifest similar emotions and desires. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is their similarity which worried me most whilst reading The Catcher in the Rye. The fact that two unconnected authors could produce such similar narratives, to me, serves to indicate a disturbing psychology that youth of the time were suffering from. Something in that particular period of time seems to have provoked mental turmoil and a revulsion at society, an alienation of the young.

I know many people have found a great deal to relate to in both The Catcher in the Rye  and Girl, Interrupted, but I am relieved to confess that I could not. The feeling of alienation from the present and uncertainty regarding what you want from the future are not emotions I have experienced. It would seem I’ve been lucky. I think I’ve often assumed that more people were like me, constant in their desires and certain of where they could find fulfillment in their future, but literature is making me realise that sadly this does not appear to be so common as I had presumed.

Holden, as a character and as a narrator, is not a comforting presence to be in. The style of his narration is rather stream of consciousness (a style I love in authors like Virginia Woolf), and although I did not find the prose difficult to read, I did find it rather self-indulgent and, thus, difficult to stomach in long periods. Holden is so completely wrapped-up in his own thoughts, perceptions of others and emotions that, at times, as a reader I felt rather suffocated by him – in the same way society and its expectations seem to suffocate him. It seemed to me that in expressing his vehement dislike and rejection of ‘phonies’ and stereotypes, Holden is, ironically, becoming more and more of a phony himself. He rocks from one thought to another, professing judgements and dislikes like they’re going out of fashion. Nothing pleases him or gains his praise. In some ways, it seems that he is going out of his way to disapprove of and dislike everything and everyone he meets. He makes the mistake of believing that in rejecting elements of society that he does not like, he is somehow rising above that society and rendering himself exempt from critique.

Where the style of narration is concerned, its casual idiomatic style that was so unusual in its day is much more run-of-the-mill today. It seems to me that in many ways Salinger was a trend-setter. Holden’s first person narration with its short sentences and colloquial turns of phrase, is reflected in many of the books enjoyed by 21st century readers.

Image courtesy of Willie Jimenez.

But enough about characters, settings, narration, what did I think of The Catcher in the Rye? I return to my quotation at the beginning of this post, which now seems rather apt, “I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it”. I find it hard to explain what I made of the book. It’s an odd ‘un, as they say. I couldn’t exactly say that I enjoyed reading it, nor was I made to feel disquieted by it as others have claimed to be. Perhaps having read Girl, Interrupted and The Bell Jar a narrative like this has lost some of its resonance for me. Show me something new. Tell me something I haven’t read before. However, I can appreciate that it was authors like Salinger and Plath who paved the way for a more open way of writing, for more honesty in young characters and forced society to acknowledge the trials and difficulties facing the youth of that, and future, times. The Catcher in the Rye is certainly worth reading, it’s thought-provoking and psychologically interesting. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not the most comforting or easy read due to the self absorbed narration. I won’t be adding it to my list of all-time-favourites, but I am glad to have read it and acknowledge the role it has played and the influence it has had upon literature and contemporary writing.

So, I move on. A slight deviation from the ‘classics’ in my next choice. Inspired by my enjoyment of her recent BBC television series, I will be reading Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court by Lucy Worsley.

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The more I read of literature, the more I am dissatisfied with it.

Long time, no blog. I know. Unfortunately I seem to be having something of an existential crisis at present. Not on behalf of my own life, thank goodness, but rather on behalf of my blog. ‘In my good books’ I named it, although I have to say I’m beginning to think that ‘In my boring books’ might have been more accurate. I set out to read books that others had hailed as ‘classics’ and have, for the most part, been a little disappointed and a lot uninspired. I love reading, I chose to study English at Uni because of this love. I had anticipated, therefore, that beginning this blog and undertaking to read more ‘classic’ books would be something of a treat, lately, at least, it hasn’t been. I seem to be reading less and less as time passes.

Since the low point of Madame Bovary, I seem to have got rather stuck in a rut. I have not found any new characters, especially heroines to aspire to or admire. I had assumed that there were a few more Elizabeth Bennets out there but am beginning to conceive that perhaps she is, after all, a flower amongst weeds in the garden of literary heroines. One thing that this blog is at least affirming to me is my love of my old favourites. I am gaining a greater insight into what exactly it is I love about the books I have cherished for so many years. Take Pride and Prejudice, for example. Previously I’d thought that it owed a great deal of its charm to the period in which it is set and the manners of the time, although having read Middlemarch I am not so sure. No, I think, where my love affair with Pride and Prejudice is concerned, it is not the period that makes it for me, or even, shock horror, Mr Darcy…it is Elizabeth. If there’s anything I love about that book it has to be her. Sure she has her faults…pride and prejudice are not the reserves of Mr Darcy, but her wit and vivacity (as Mr Collins puts it) are in my reading so far unparalleled.

Now, where the book I am currently dawdling through is concerned…where to begin. The Catcher in the Rye does not seem to be a bad book, although it is, for me, not the holy grail of literature. I haven’t finished it yet, so am aware that I am in no way fit to pass comment, but I have certainly developed a general air of apathy where reading this book is concerned. Thus far my reading of it has only commenced on trains, not a good sign. Instead, in the evening, I find myself drawn to the charms of sweeping….Minesweeping, that is; and can now boast the richest Sim I’ve ever played. Yes, it is that modern trapping, the computer game, that has robbed Salinger of my perusal. The Catcher in the Rye is by no means a doorstop of a book, in fact, compared to the likes of Middlemarch it is but a minnow in the pool. In fact, if I felt so inclined, I could probably sit down and read the whole thing in a couple of hours; and perhaps that is the way I’ll have to go. Maybe the quick short burst, like the ripping off of a plaster, will be my solution for The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe by the end of it I’ll even find I enjoy the sensation. But finishing it is not my main concern at present. It can be done, if I set my mind to it. No, what concerns me is my need to rip off the plaster and read in such a forced fashion. I’ve only encountered this sort of reading when studying academic texts and course books when revising. This is not the way I would choose to read for pleasure, as it confers little pleasure at all.

But how to solve the problem? The answer seems clear, read better books. But how to find them? I am, after all, currently reading my way through texts that have, for years, been ranked amongst the best. The pinnacle of literature. If they are not satisfying then where to turn next evades me. I’m not even so fussed when it comes to plot, all I want, as I’ve said from the start, is a heroine to be proud of. To be honest, even a hero would suffice. The perfect escapism, for me, is to wander into the life of a character I admire, to view the world as they do and to learn of worlds different to my own through their eyes; but where to find these characters? Again, I turn to the wisdom of Elizabeth Bennet, ‘The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense’. Perhaps I just need to be grateful that I have found books that I do love, and be content with the pleasure I have had in reading them.

What about  In my good books…? Well, I will trudge on, turning pages, scouring for that heroine to be proud of. After all, hope flames eternal…perhaps there is another Lizzie out there, skulking amongst the dross of boring characters, waiting to be discovered and truly loved. I just wish my course to find her would run a little  smoother.

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