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The Catcher In The Rye: A Book-Review


It has been around a week since I completed this novel; feels a little awkward to say, but I really really "miss" reading it. Such was the connect.
For those who don't know, I am not an ardent reader. The number of books, fiction in particular, that I have read in my life, is so less, that I keep adding every book I read to my Facebook profile, just to keep a count for myself. Further, it is not that I don't like reading, I actually have loved reading whenever I did, but due to reasons known and unknown, I never got into it habitually, never had people around who'd really urge me to try it or was always pre-occupied with various other activities, being the "multi-hobby-ed" person that I am.

This is also the reason why I am very choosy about the books I pick up at a time, now that I have started reading occasionally. I had heard a lot about "The Catcher In The Rye" from people (on Facebook). Even when I went searching for the "best novels ever", I found its name at positions nowhere below the top:number 1 actually. Obviously thus, I was tempted to get my hands on it. And I did. (Shhh, on a copy that wasn't original)

The story started quite immediately, very immediately. Unlike how fiction is usually perceived to be, there was no beating around the bush in this one, certainly not in the beginning at least.

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.
The narration turned out to be in first person—again something I had not expected. But what scored maximum on the "unexpectedness" factor, was the language that began to surface: so very informal, casual and increasingly profane, that I couldn't believe I was reading a widely acclaimed "classic". There were phrases and slang words repeated almost everywhere. From two to twenty to thirty pages as I moved on, I found myself regretting all the more—so much so that I started getting irritated at one point. I asked a friend of mine what the heck was going on, how could a 'classic' be like that, for I had expected to get to learn some new literary tools, new phrases, new ways of exploring the beauty and power—thus the beautiful power—of words, which clearly wasn't the case. Then I was told that the book, belonging to the 20th century breed of fiction, is testimony to the fact that the American sense of writing had pretty much got deteriorated, "polluted" by then. (I guess it is ever since that era, the Americans are known world-over for their pure and gorgeous language and expressions #sarcasm) The friend also added that this was why he loved reading fiction from the British, Queen's era. 'Whatever. Now how do I turn this into a British work, duh," I thought to myself.
But I knew that I'm no great reader to understand how fiction-reading works, so 'better be patient and continue reading,' I told myself. Thankfully.
Half-way through the book, I was completely with the character, if not within it. I was travelling with him everywhere he went, experiencing the little events that he kept mentioning and hating or liking people according to his observations. Which made me sit up and take notice of how writing in first-person can prove to important, extremely important. Here, I'd like to mention, that before going on to reading the book, I had some-why gone through a few critical reviews available on the web. And there in those reviews, what I call a boon, has been clearly flagged off as a "bane". People have accused the author of being too self-centered in the story, so abrupt in switching from one character to another, that the limelight never shifts from the author's role of the protagonist, and a little bit from this magical creation called "Phoebe"—his sister. People come, people go. And that is what has constituted the rants of most critiques.

One of the most widespread criticisms of The Catcher in the Rye deals with the adolescence and repetitive nature of the main character, Holden Caulfield. Anne Goodman commented that in the course of such a lengthy novel, the reader would weary of a character such as Holden. Goodman wrote "Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he, and his creator, thought he was" (20). She also remarked that Holden was so completely self-centered that any other characters who wandered through the book, with the exception of Holden's sister, Phoebe, had no authenticity at all. (Ref.)

And I don't deny that. Now that I read the above criticism more clearly, I realize I had exactly the same issues with the book for quite a large part of my tour through it, in fact, I had even started questioning why should a certain Chetan Bhagat be detested for his free-style, if this is what a classic can afford to be like? All this, till I either got accustomed or simply started ignoring all that I hadn't been liking, to be able to take note of the author's point, his story, his emotional and physical turmoils and fantastic observations of events and people. I also picked up a few techniques of story-telling that I strongly felt would match my style:one of them being, first-person narration.

Having told any potential readers of what they may not like in the story, I dare not resist sharing all that is superbly amazing about it too. First, the narration. It's a completely no-nonsense business, and at the same time, nonsensical at some places. No-nonsense because, like I said before, there isn't much beating about the bush anywhere. I get a feeling that this could be because the author has chosen to talk through his story rather than just narrate it. One is bound to feel at some time or the other as if Late Mr JP Salinger is sitting right in front of you, telling his tale of what all happened with him, complete with natural expressions. Natural as in, just the way a teenage American boy probably would—calling every second thing, but every single person: goddam, phony, bastard, sonuvabitch, madman. We all, in real life, are habitual of using some phrases too frequently (like say, "literally") and JP Salinger does so too through, a lot actually. Like I can recall: that kills me (everything kills him), if you really wanna hear about it, it did it really did and so on. Sporadically on repeat.
So the golden advice is, if you happen to be someone who reads novels to enhance his grammar and/or vocabulary, Catcher..is so not your calling.

If you do read the book, read it to discover this superb character called Holden Caulfield, who might even come across as an alter-ego of sorts at several places, many places in fact. Here is this guy who is absolutely aimless, no direction, no love for life, god and his blessings. To almost all others he is this reckless good-for-nothing fellow who won't be able to make anything substantial out of his goddam life. He has an eye and opinion for everything that passes his eyes and we, the readers, get to experience it all as time passes. He can see the bad in everyone, but him. He abuses the whole world for being full of bastards, while his own dark side isn't so hidden afterall. There are people who'd beat the shit out of him and he won't be able to say a word—so much mean, that is—but there also are others who he won't mind being rude and mean to, either. "Survival of the fittest," as they say. Holden is a person very strong at some places, and very weak at some others.
BUT there is a very soft side to him. A side that knows the difference between good and bad, evil and angelic, beauty and ugliness. There is something very child-like honest in this sixteen-year old, I felt, which sets him apart from his age-group. While others think he is mad and immature, you might as well think he is too mature for his age. Holden is a boy with some principles, that even he might not be knowing.  He is an extremist in the sense that whatever comes to him, comes in excess:love, hatred, judgmental-ness and thinking. He madly loves people who he loves but doesn't realize this as much. He hates all others and does realize and acknowledge that, which makes him seem a bit too too hateful. Too much of a thinker. Too much of a pessimist.

I bet, I am not the only one who could relate to Holden. But the best part in the whole book is when you discover what the title is about.

The book is nothing if one doesn't understand the character and everything, if one does. Read The Catcher In The Rye to see Holden rise from a phase of self destruction to life again. See him fall into severe depression due to his judgmental hatred for the world, that makes him wreck himself up so bad that he ends up in a state where he cannot control his emotions, cannot understand them, cannot understand his own needs and becomes a loner en-route to complete self-destruction:physically, mentally and spiritually. See him experience the bad at worst:violence, betrayal, sex, anger, hatred and what not.
But then, see also something happen and bring things to a standstill. His little sister (a prodigy in fiction and an epic character in real), literally and quite unknowingly brings him back to life.

How? Hear it from JD Salinger himself in this tell-it-all novel that is a classic for the way it has succeeded in etching the human mindset accurately, if not for the way it has been written. Though, there ARE some very powerful lines in this piece of marvel. "The Catcher In The Rye", the name.



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3 comments:

Anonymous,  August 23, 2011 at 12:34 AM  

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

kamagra April 16, 2012 at 8:30 AM  

This is a timeless classic, not to be missed.

Anonymous,  October 11, 2012 at 11:09 AM  

very good!

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