I read this book on recommendation, and, boy, I enjoyed it. I really did. Not in the same way I enjoy commercial thrillers or in the way that more profound literary novels satisfy me, but probably somewhere in between.
And I suppose all in all, The Catcher in the Rye had some great moments where I set the book down for a moment (well, okay my phone, if I’m being honest) to ponder certain ideas or allusions that Salinger presented. But it also had moments of mediocrity and parts that I didn’t feel added anything to Holden’s characterisation that hadn’t already been implied. Because, let’s be honest, the novel is essentially a character study, and I’m perfectly happy with that. In fact, for me, it was reminiscent of The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, although of course, predating Banks, and most likely inspiring him. And overall, Holden is a very interesting character study, and despite being self-contradictory in almost everything he says, and a complete hypocrite, and a bit of an arsehole, generally, he is still relatable and likeable.
I won’t get into the historical context of the novel, because I don’t know enough about it, and wouldn’t to make even more a fool of myself, so I’ll leave my thoughts here as I read the novel, as a character study.
I initially liked Salinger’s breaking of the classic ‘show don’t tell rule’ by first showing the reader something, through dialogue or description, and then again telling us through Holden’s inner monologue. In fact, it’s more like ‘show and tell’, which is great for showing the reader how analytical he is, to a clinical level, perhaps, but it got rather tiresome for me at one point, and remained that way, but maybe that was the point. Who knows? Salinger, probably, although also probably not. Examples are littered through the novel, from the first few pages, where he gets annoyed with his teacher for repeating himself, and calling him ‘Boy’, yet Holden uses the word boy repeatedly, and also repeats himself all the time. Furthermore he crucifies traits of many characters that he himself exhibits. There are many examples of this, but one I highlighted was him getting angry at people for being late, and then later getting angry at people for criticising people being later: ‘If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late/ Nobody.’ This all leads me to infer that what Holden really hates, is himself. And there came a point in the novel, towards the end, where everything started to come together and I felt a tremendous amount of pity for him. It was around where he goes home to see Phoebe, and we found out more about his deceased brother, and from this point, I started to look back at his personality and behaviour and the way that his brother’s death influenced them, and in a way, the novel becomes a study of grief. Although, perhaps that is more my projection of things that interest me, as I’ve read and wrote a lot around grief recently. Ultimately stories can be interpreted in as many ways as there are readers, and I certainly took something away from this novel.
Ultimately, I’m glad I read The Catcher in the Rye, and I’m still pondering the metaphor that is the book’s namesake, although it’s implications remind me again of Frank from The Wasp Factory, and somewhat of Alex from A Clockwork Orange. I absolutely love reading unreliable narrators like these, especially as one such character is at the core of the outline I have for my next novel/novella.