The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, is oft considered a classic, a remarkable feat of psychological literature, a must-read. It’s a common feature of high school reading lists and with a page count just short of two hundred, is labelled as quick and easy reading. Which it is. You could plough through the entire book in a day if you really wanted to. But that’s not to say that you really do want to…
I desperately wanted to like The Catcher in the Rye. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for about four years and the number of times it’s been recommended to me is quite unbelievable. I picked it up and put it down on dozens of occasions and even began reading its first chapter a couple of times. It wasn’t until recently however, after having officially added it to me ‘Books to Read in 2012’ list, that I pulled it from my shelf with the intention of actually reaching its end.
It cannot be denied that J.D. Salinger is an excellent writer with a flair for first person prose. His characterisation of Holden Caulfield, from whose point of view The Catcher in the Rye is told, is unfaltering; throughout the entire novel, I felt as if I were inhabiting a chamber of Holden’s mind, viewing the world through his eyes, responding to the world with the same feelings. The style is reminiscent almost of a stream-of-consciousness told anecdotally and irreverently, brimming with the 1940s’ idea of profane language and serving to poignantly illustrate the the peculiarities of Holden’s psyche. In this sense, J.D. Salinger’s novel is a literary triumph.
From the very first sentence, Salinger acquaints you with Holden’s peculiar way of thinking and from there, you’re taken on the journey of a sixteen year-old boy disillusioned by the world. You’re taken from boarding school to New York City to home. You meet a dozen different characters, some whose impacts on Holden are negative, others whose impacts on Holden are profoundly positive. You meet his friends, his teachers, his family, his girlfriends and you’re introduced to them crudely, frankly and through Holden’s very intriguing perspective. With Holden, you grow and you learn. You taste the raw and filthy underbelly of life. You contemplate the expectations that others have of you. You dapple with care and with carelessness. In its entirety, The Catcher in the Rye is the world seen through the eyes of a boy who sees differently.
Though written with magnificent style, I found The Catcher in the Rye to be lacking that certain inexplicable element that earns a book a place on my favourites list. On an intellectual level, I can acknowledge that this classic novel is not only written well, but is thought-provoking, blunt and extraordinarily profound. However, I did not manage to enjoy it any more than I would have had I have been reading it simply as a school assignment. I found it tedious in places, repetitive in others and as a whole, I found it to be a slow and effortful read. At no point was I impelled to continue reading and when I finally reached its end, I felt only relief. While I wanted very much to enjoy J.D. Salinger’s famous book, I could only appreciate it academically.
The Catcher in the Rye is not what I would describe as an enjoyable book but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t recommend it to other readers. It is intriguing, provoking and frank and for those in search of a novel that explores perspective, society, insanity and the world, The Catcher in the Rye is definitely worth picking up.
For those who’ve already read it, what are your thoughts of J.D. Salinger’s novel?