Spring break is over and that means that I’ve started reading again. After finally finishing Pride & Prejudice (which I took too long to read, so I can’t review it), I decided to pick up another classic book: Catcher in the Rye. First published in the early 1950s, this tale of adolescent madness is a must on my bookshelves. It is one of my favorite books of all time and it’s the third or fourth time that I’ve read it. Here’s why.
The story tells the tale of 3 days out of the life of Holden Caulfield. A seventeen year-old boy who just got expelled from his expensive Prep school Pencey. He is the protagonist and narrator of the story, giving you, the reader, a good insight into his brain. It’s not the first school he is expelled from and Holden is every so slightly worried what his parents will think, but at the same time he could care less. That’s exactly Holden’s problem: he is fickle and impulsive. Or to put it shortly: an enfant terrible pur sang. In a way his state of mind can be best described as manic. In the course of three days, Holden deals with feelings of euphoria, joy, determination and frivolity, but also depression, loneliness, angst and fear.
Holden isn’t necessarily a nice character. He is lazy, calls everyone a ‘phoney’ (even his own parents) and thinks he is right about everything: a typical teenager. He takes rash, stupid and often impulsive decisions and blows through all his cash before he even gets home and has to borrow money from his 10-year-old kid sister Phoebe, who is the only person he really seems to care about besides himself. His relationships with other people are at the center of the novel and they aren’t always positive. In fact, his stance towards people can change within the span of a single conversation. He thinks of himself as being very mature, while hating or at least disliking almost every adult he comes across. Even when he initially likes the adults he interacts with, he usually leaves them feeling frustrated and angry.
My reason for liking this book is not the story. My main reason for liking this is the language. Known for its accurate depiction of 1950s teenage slang, Catcher in the Rye, is a nice record of how youngsters spoke at the time. I can imagine though, that if you’re not a language nut like me, that it can take a while to get through that, but once you know that flits are homosexuals, and something kills you if you find something amazing, you very quickly get the gist of things. The language simply works and allows you as a reader to really merge into the wicked mind of Holden Caulfield: it makes it real and the character comes to life, as if he’s a real person telling you this.
Another reason why I like this story is the pace. Since Holden is the narrator of the story, you get mostly short sentences which mostly consist of dialogue. This makes Catcher in the Rye a quick read that becomes a page turner not because of the action of the story, but because of the narration of the story. Voices of other characters are only portrayed from Holden’s perspective and he frequently comments on what people are doing and saying when he encounters them. This leads to some hilarious moments and especially at the beginning when you first get into his head I always snigger and laugh out loud at his remarks and stupidity. As the story progresses you find out that this isn’t about some teenage antics, but that Holden has a more serious problem and the tone changes ever so slightly, which takes away some of the hilarity, but still makes for a good read nonetheless.
I would recommend this book if you’re into books that explore how the mind works, if you like reading books with interesting characters, or if you like books that describe what it feels like to be a teenager. This book is also a great read if you can get past the dated slang (of if you are like me and actually enjoy such a thing). However, if you’re looking for something that is a page turner because of the action that is going on, you’ll be disappointed. No, instead this book is great to read if you want to explore what it feels like when you are grown up enough to no longer be a kid, but young enough to not yet be deemed an adult.
Have you read Catcher in the Rye? If so, what are your thoughts?