Monday, 4 March 2013

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

Before I read it, the title of this book had always loomed imposingly in the distance. It was one of the greats, one of those intimidating books whose name is permanently etched into your brain, it was Pride and Prejudice, it was Great Expectations, it was War and Peace - it was 'classic fiction' in the most terrifying sense of the word. I expected it to be dense, and wordy; I expected it to be a book that meant something and knew it. This couldn't have been further from the truth.

In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger takes the reader on a journey through New York through the eyes of the teenage protagonist, Holden Caulfield. And through this somewhat eventful city jaunt, we catch a glimpse into the mind of one of the most angst-ridden, self-destructive protagonists known to literature. Obsessed and terrified by the thought of change, when confronted with adulthood, he declares it phony, unimportant, distancing himself from the changing sands of time and wishing he could simply stop the clock, and stand still. Ultimately, it's the novel's central theme of craving inertia which drives it, and gives it meaning.

But what draws you in, what forces you to continue, is Salinger’s excellent narration. He commands Caulfield’s voice masterfully, and wholly inhabits his mind, effortlessly conjuring the character, making it seem as if he is speaking directly to you, his words echoing endlessly in your mind. Salinger and Caulfield are both storytellers at their heart; their burning passion to make you empathise with them is what motivates them, and what makes their stories so engaging. He lightly sprinkles the text with colloquialisms and slang - Catcher isn't a book which views highly of itself. For much of it, it's as if Salinger has simply made a carbon copy of his mind onto the page. Caulfield isn't afraid to aggrandise himself, he doesn't shy away from making himself seem faultless. And this lets us understand his character that much better - he isn't an all-knowing, all-encompassing narrator. We're not meant to believe his every word and look up to him as a role model. We're supposed to dislike Holden, we're supposed to view his actions critically and judge him for them.

The Catcher in the Rye is a story that doesn't place itself above the reader. It's a story that doesn't try to teach you a moral, it's a story which doesn't take itself as anything more. In writing it, J.D. Salinger wrote a masterpiece which, while amongst the classics in its quality, surpasses them in its relatability.

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