Tuesday, April 03, 2007

book of books - The Catcher in the Rye

The problem with The Catcher in the Rye is that J.D.Salinger probably had no idea that what would make the book most famous is that John Lennon’s killer would point to it for inspiration.

Mark Chapman might have claimed that the book inspired him to shoot Lennon but if he had read it through to the end he would have realised that not only is Holden Caulfield incredibly lonely but he is also very damaged – hardly someone inspirational. As to the idea that Lennon was some kind of phoney, a label Holden uses against people in the book, the Beatle always appeared to be totally true to his beliefs and was prepared to suffer for them (see the documentary Lennon versus the USA).

Plot summary
Holden Caulfield has flunked out of school, not for the first time, and is killing time before he has to head home and face his parents. Rather than wait in school until the term ends for Christmas he heads off to New York and spends a couple of lonely days trying to fill in his time in the city. Explaining through his thoughts how he believes most of the students, teachers and general people he meets are phonies. The only people he seems to care about are his sister and a girl called Jane who is only mentioned in the story but never appears. In the end after spending his phoney and feeling thoroughly sorry for himself he announces to his sister that he is leaving and heading to a ranch. But when she turns up and says she is coming with him his resolve gives way and the book ends with him receiving psychiatric treatment and getting ready to go to a different school.

Is it well written?
Getting inside the head of a 16 year old is difficult but to be able to do so in such a convincing way is incredible. Add to that the fact it remains timeless even though it was written in the 1950s and you start to understand why it is such a powerful insight into the disaffected teenage mind. There are also different emotions with sadness, lust and humour all thrown in. The other positive to say is that Holden is just out there and it is for the reader to engage with him and decide if he is an idiot, an anti-hero or just someone who has lost their way. What you are also left with is an image of Holden trying to catch the children as they come through the rye - a methaphor for him trying to stop the painful move from childhood into adulthood.

Should it be read?
This is where it gets slightly harder because this books comes with so much baggage because of Chapman and it is hard reading it without falling prey to the hype. It is also seen as a book that because the content is about a young sixteen year old is somehow something that should be read by that aged audience. In between those two issues there is a book that if nothing else puts a different voice on paper and it should be read not just because it challenges your point of view but also because it reminds you of just how vulnerable people are when they pretend that they are the exact opposite.

Sixteen year old gets kicked out of school but he is glad to escape the phonies but ends up with just himself for company and that’s almost worse

Version read – Penguin paperback

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