Originally published in 1951 by Little, Brown
My edition: the 2010 Penguin paperback. Simple, but beautiful.
What’s it about?
Holden Caulfield is seventeen. He’s a high school dropout and is trying to navigate his way throw growing up in a world of phonies with a legendary teenage voice.
I’ve always meant to read this, but as I get older I’m starting to worry that I will have missed the seminal age to read and appreciate this novel. I’m hoping that at 22 and still pretty angsty I will have caught it in time...
The Catcher in the Rye surprised me. From everything I had and read and heard about Holden and his story, I was expecting a crap-ton on angst, a fairly unpleasant character in some ways, not much plot and a solid reason that it could be banned so continuously for the last 60-odd years. But what I got was a troubled, confused teenage boy who doesn’t know what he wants from the world and serious trust issues; a deep, dark mental spiral and a genuinely affecting novel.
Unsurprisingly, this is a character-driven novel; there’s not a huge amount of plot at all. Holden is kicked out of his prestigious boarding school, but instead of waiting for the information to reach his parents, he decides to make his own way back to NYC and live on his own terms for a few days. It was strange to see through the eyes of a character that was both so self-aware and so naive, and he’s also a pretty unreliable narrator; he’s prone to exaggeration. The three days that this novel is set over is told from Holden a little while later from a place where he’s being treated for mental illness, or so we assume, and it’s refreshingly narrated with direct address so even though not a whole lot of plot happens, you’re right there in the heart of the story with Holden.
Considering The Catcher in the Rye gets banned so much, I was expecting the novel to be full of sex and serious profanity and every taboo subject you can think of, but nope. There was underage drinking, minor language and mentions of sex (well, quite a few mentions of sex, actually) but nothing you don’t get in a YA novel! It’s even stranger considering Holden’s stance on sex; he’s scared of it. He talks about it a whole lot, but it seems as if every reference too it gets condemned as perverted by him, and when he has the opportunity to do it, he can’t. But then come the hints at sexual abuse and it becomes clearer, and so does Holden himself. Salinger keeps it ambiguous and it’s only referred to twice, but it stuck in my mind. I’ve never heard sexuality spoken about in regard to this novel, other than reasons for banning it, and know I can’t understand why.
I have to admit that I would have loved to have studied this at A-level or university – there’s a lot in it and I’d love to discuss it properly, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Catcher in the Rye regardless.
Still not convinced:
- You’ll just feel left out if you don’t.
- Holden Caulfield is so much more than the angst and fast wit – he’s been sold short.
- John Green’s Crash Course Literature videos (Part 1, Part 2) give you a glimpse at the awesome that lies inside.