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The Catcher In The Rye | J.D. Salinger | Reviewed by Ria

J.D. Salinger's seminal novel The Catcher In The Rye has been one of those classics that people always mention as one of the books you need to read growing up and at nearly 21, I finally have.
Catcher In The Rye cover
The story follows 16 year old Holden Caulfield. A loner of a character who's just been kicked out of a school, called Pencey, which isn't really a big deal for him - he's been kicked out of quite a few by this point. He's admittedly lazy with no real interest in anything except English and writing, even then it's not enough to keep him there.
We meet him a few days before his imminent departure from the school, when he decides to screw it and return to his home town of New York City before his parents find out he's no longer a Pencey student. Red hunting cap in tow and with some money in his back pocket the novel's structure follows Holden as he meanders around for three days. 
And when I say structure, I use this term very loosely.
Yes there is a chronological plot, but Holden's tale veers off into different anecdotal directions. From talking about his family to people he went to school with and his stories that have shaped his viewpoint and opinions about the world. 

Holden is essentially an old man in child's body. He's judgemental of people who are 'phonies', yet is deeply hypocritical about nearly everything he talks about, he's consistently showcased as being slightly irritating to those around him, is an accomplished self-confessed liar, and most importantly a lonely person. All this qualities make for something I find quite common in coming of age novels, the 'hipster-I-hate-life-teenager'. He moans...a lot, which arguably makes for a incredibly dislikable character. 
Then you realise he's actually writing this as an account of events gone by. Holden is writing about himself in this way, this what he saw himself as when he was 16 years old and post-Pencey, and it's only when you read between the lines that you realise that Holden is still trying to figure out who he is and that's ok for now. 
Catcher In The Rye spine
So what's my verdict?
I won't lie to you and say that 'Catcher...' was an easy read, because it wasn't. The language is archaic mid-20th century and Holden's storytelling is disjointed and frustrating at times. Upon reflection, reading comments on GoodReads and watching a couple of discussions of the novel, I've come to realise that Holden is supposed to be frustrating, that's the whole point of him. He is a teenage boy. Simple as. And much like all teenagers, he's a little lost. There's no fairytale ending here, (the closest to one would probably be the scene with his sister Phoebe and the carousel) and there's certainly no complete resolution to his story - which some readers may find unsatisfying. 
If anything reading 'Catcher...' aged 20 made me wish I read it as a teenager, I may have felt more empathy for a character who's desperately searching to be heard, caught between acting like an adult and reminiscing on a romanticised version of his childhood/early teens. But it was none the less a fascinating read and I can imagine will only get more complex the more you re-read it!

Reading Soundtrack: 
Those You've Known: Spring Awakening OBC; Comin' Thro The Rye: Marion Anderson; Timshel: Mumford & Sons;  Just One Of Those Things: Frank Sinatra; Hurt: Johnny Cash; People Help The People: Birdy

For lovers of...coming of age novels, Salinger's other works and YA classics. Note! I would also recommend watching John Green's analysis on 'Catcher in the Rye' and his 'Catcher...' CrashCourse videos on youtube, if you have already read the novel (part1 & part2 of analysis here! and the start of his Crash Course mini series here)

This review was written by regular reviewer Ria, get to know her here.

*all images (c) Ria Cagampang

5 comments

  1. I read this book recently, and had the same realisation that I should of read it when I was a teenager. Its one of my boyfriends favourite books that's why I wanted to read it so much, and I honestly hated it until the last couple of chapters.

    Have been meaning to read this again to see if I'd like it any more. Either way it's a great novel. :) x

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    1. I do think it's worth a re-read, even while going back to write this review I found parts that I hadn't gotten the meaning of the first time round. Also worth checking out other people's interpretations of the book too, I do this 'Catcher's a 'grower' :) xoxo

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  2. I'm so bad at reading classics! I haven't read this either! Oh gosh! ;)

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    1. I was the same until the last few months too! Am making a stand, 2013 is definitely a classics year for me xoxo

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  3. This book, in this humble English teacher's opinion, is one of the most misunderstood books in American literature. Many of my friends and colleagues have dismissed the book as a story "where nothing happens" or "the whining of a childish rich boy", when, in fact, they are overlooking what I consider to be its central message - that, if left untreated, grief and secrets can turn even the most promising young life into madness. Holden Caulfield comes from a family very typical of upper class NYC, in which problems can be swept under the rug with a martini and a new school. The Caulfields, as Holden suggests in disturbingly few remarks about his parents, have never dealt with Allie's death, and have done a tremendous disservice to Holden by not "having him psychoanalized and all" and instead shoving him from prep school to prep school. Only an unfeeling, unthinking cog would not break down in Holden's situation, as he travels the city feeling mixed irritation and pity and the adult world he knows he must soon enter - a world in which cute little boys die, ugly girls must put up with boring dates, girls named Sunny sell their bodies, and closeted men make drunken advances at young men in their hour of need. Every time I teach this book, I try my best to impress upon the students that this is a tale of family dysfunction, of the trappings of unattended mental crisis, and that while Holden's immaturity and cynicism may make him anti-hero, he his just a 16-year-old boy who is too smart to accept a flawed world, but not quite smart enough to overcome his own ego to realize that he must deal with his reality or else.

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