The Catcher in the Rye is a book that’s been constantly talked about, and is a work to study in a number of literature courses. I, however, have not managed to read it in all this time. I don’t know if it’s made the transition yet, but I think it’s more of a pillar of American literature classes rather than classes over here, although I don’t know if things have changed in the years since I left school. I was always curious about it as it has a huge reputation, but for some reason I could never find it in a bookshop and the only link I had to the book was the song ‘Catcher in the Rye’ by Guns N’ Roses on their album Chinese Democracy. Finally it caught my eye in the library last week and I snatched it up, so what did I think?
After I turned the last page my reaction consisted of a confused expression and a thought of, ‘was that it?’. I don’t see why it has garnered such a cult following over the years, but I think it’s perhaps a book that should be read when you’re at a certain age or stage of life. I think if I was in the throes of teenage angst again this book would have appealed to me greatly, but where I’m older now (although I still have plenty of angst) I don’t see myself as the character, and am able to look at Holden Caulfield dispassionately. However, I have a feeling that many people may paint Caulfield as a champion and I feel this is misguided.
To me, Holden comes off as a deeply sensitive, disturbed boy who is struggling with the realities of life. It’s clear that he is still coming to terms with the deaths of his brother and the schoolmate who he didn’t really like, yet allowed to borrow his turtleneck sweater anyway. I interpret his bitter attitude to an effort to push people away, to create a barrier in which he can look at people with disdain and loathing rather than love. The clues to his sensitivity are plain to see, he repeatedly states that he needs to be in love to have sex and he keeps trying to get random cab drivers and other people to have a drink with him. What’s left is a very depressing portrait of a lonely boy on the cusp of manhood who, while intelligent, is lazy, and is unsure of how to proceed.
One nuance I liked is that while we’re shown the novel from Holden’s perspective, we also get reactions from the people he’s interacting with, and although he dismisses them, (‘I wasn’t shouting’) it’s fair to say they were probably accurate, and through this we get a better understanding of Holden. It’s quite tragic really, throughout the book he condemns everyone else for being phonies and yet he’s probably the phoniest of them all, living in a delusion where he thinks he has all the answers and unable to face the truth that he needs some help.
His most redeeming feature is the love he shows for his sister Phoebe. I enjoyed their relationship and thought it was one of the best aspects of the book, even though it only appears late on in the novel.
Overall I did enjoy reading it and the prose flowed very easily. The ending was disappointing but since it’s more a slice of life story rather than a plotted narrative I suppose the abrupt ending is fitting, if not satisfying. There’s certainly plenty to discuss about the novel though, and it would be interesting to get a cross-section of opinions to people who read it later in life compared with those who read it while teenagers. I’m not going to recommend that this is a must-read though. I’m certainly glad I read it, but I don’t think it quite lives up to the hype.