Reviewer: Naomi, of Create-Believe-Dream
The Catcher in the Rye has the distinct reputation of being both the most-censored and the second most assigned book in the same year in American schools (1981). It is said to sum up perfectly the city of New York in the fifties and has been acclaimed as one of the “three perfect books” in American literature alongside The Great Gatsby and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (source Wikipedia). It’s a book whose reputation precedes it and title evokes much. And I loved it.
Despite its reputation and popularity I had never read it before and only did so at the suggestion of my husband who thought I would enjoy it. He reads to me in bed each night and suggested it for this purpose (yes, we are totally, sickeningly adorable). I think hearing it read by a male voice really accentuated the wonderful characterisation of the protagonist Holden Caulfield.
The Catcher in the Rye is a book more about people than plot which always appeals to me. The main action of the book takes place over two days and is recounted by Caulfield from a hospital bed after the fact. A disillusioned and confused Caulfield has been expelled from his fancy private school Pencey Prep and decides to leave before the end of the term and spend a few nights in New York until his parents expect him home from school. He meets a range of characters in the city, some of whom he knows and some whom he doesn’t including nuns, a prostitute and her pimp, the mother of a school friend, tourists, friends, and family members. Each of the interactions he has tell us more about him as a person and serve to highlight his downward spiral eventuating in some sort of breakdown after he returns home.
I’m a bit of sucker for coming of age/ teenage angst stories, even as an adult I can still remember what a tumultuous and overwhelming time of life it was. It is also such rich territory for character development and this is where the beauty of this book lies. Caulfield is an intelligent, rebellious and astute character, easily able to see through the “phony” world of adulthood for which his school is attempting to mould him. He is alienated from his peer group and shows a wistful attachment to the innocence and simplicity of childhood. The title of the book comes from a passage where he expresses his desire to protect children from the seeming horrors of adulthood. He was a very real, believable and sympathetic character and I was very moved by the book because of this.
Salinger’s writing style would have been, I imagine, very provocative for a fifties audience. The stream of consciousness style of the narration, the use of (by today’s standards very tame) bad language and colloquial speech, and Caulfield’s open and frankly expressed views on sex could possibly overshadow the purity and simplicity of the story and the character of a lost young person trying to find their place in the world. This is what has stayed with me most, and I can understand why this book still resonates with readers today.