Reviewing a literary classic is fraught with danger, if only because there’s bound to be loads of stuff I miss – captured by decades of academic scrutiny – making me seem unlearned. Yet any serious reader, especially geeky ones, can’t ignore the classics… ahem… especially if you couldn’t be bothered going out to buy or borrow a book after you’d finished your previous one, and your wife just so happens to have a copy (no, I’m not reading Pride and Prejudice, er… again.)
This is my first time reading J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, a book relentlessly studied in high schools, but not one that I ever came across in my schooling. Maybe because I imagined that I’d have to turn in an essay after reading it (which this review is, in a way), I approached the book with an analytical eye, but unsure of what to look for exactly. This is most likely why I found it difficult to like when I first started reading – the language was too old-school for my tastes, the main character was particularly odious, and it seemed to be completely lacking in plot.
But there’s just something about Holden Caufield’s story, isn’t there? It’s not that the character himself is likeable per se, but in the glimpse that you get of the world through his eyes, you start to see a little of your own world – the ever-present malaise affecting society that’s bubbling just below the surface. Salinger doesn’t claim to have the answer, which is largely why I found the book so unsatisfying initially, but he does manage to impart some timeless wisdom to eternally disaffected youth through these words spoken by Mr. Antonlini:
‘Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behaviour. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as some day, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you.’
There’s something wonderfully recursive about that quote, given that the story is written in the first person from Holden’s perspective. And that seems to be the crux of it. The book isn’t so much a story as it is parable for misguided young persons.
If I was writing an essay, that would be my conclusion. What do you think… would I have passed?