Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Release Year: 1951
Info about author: wikipedia
Age group: YA/Adult 
Pages: 277 (depends on the edition)
Buy the book: Amazon - Book Depository 

Description (from Goodreads):

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with "cynical adolescent." Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them."

His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.


I would not call this so much a review, at least not in the fashion that the majority of my reviews, but more just like a post about my thoughts on this book. For some reason I find classics extremely difficult to review because they have been reviewed so many times, and because people usually already know what the books are about, even if they have not read them.

I tried to read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time probably back in 2010. I borrowed the Finnish translation of the novel from the library and pretty much after the first chapter realized that I would never finish with it. I returned the book back to the library and forgot about it. A while ago I saw someone talking about the book on BookTube and started to wonder whether my dislike towards the book was related to the translation rather than the content of the story itself. I kept thinking about the book and when I ordered something else from AwesomeBooks, I put the novel to my order, just to give it a new chance. And I am happy I did so - it did not end up becoming my favorite book or changing my life, but I did find it to be an interesting read, proving that it indeed was the translation that just did not work for me. 

I think of the main complaints I have heard from people who do not like this novel is the fact that "nothing really happens". I guess it could be argued that nothing spectacular happens, but it would be wrong to say that "nothing happens". I feel like this is one of those books in which "nothing happens", but at the same time a lot happens. Holden is kicked out of his fancy private school and the book follows his life for the next couple of days. Holden, the narrator of the novel, describes the events in a very wry, sarcastic manner - he describes the people around him, his own life, the surroundings etc. Through his narration we get glimpses about his past, his family relationships and the issues that he has dealt with from loss to alienation.

It is extremely difficult to decide what to think of Holden. He is occasionally very funny and sarcastic, but there are also parts of him that are extremely annoying - he is a snob, annoyingly privileged and tends to hate everything and everyone around him. I completely understand why someone would hate him as a character, but I did not hate him, I just found him to be kind of sad. I feel like the hate he feels is a result of his alienation and the loss he has experienced before, and his actions really speak for the fact that he must not like himself very much. Holden pretends to be tough and worldly, but his weaknesses/his human side become visible through his extreme emotionalism - he starts crying very easily when thinking about things and people he has declared to hate. This is only more of an evidence of the fact that in his teen angst, he cannot see that he actually cares about things and people.  

The writing style is very close to stream of consciousness narrative mode, due to which it is at parts extremely difficult to read. The book itself is quite short, but I felt like it took me quite a lot of time to get through it just because I really had to concentrate on every single word. While reading the book I constantly kept comparing Holden to these so-called "hipsters" that are now "super cool" (NOT) - he hates things like films and theatre (especially if it is mainstream), but then really enjoys them and cannot do without them. I feel like for Holden the fact that someone could be like him and that someone could be interested in the same things as him scares him - he desperately wants to be special, but by his actions he is like any other teenager in any given century.

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