Book Reviews

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye

…by J. D. Salinger.
Holden Caulfield is a sixteen year old adolescent who narrates how he has reached where he currently is. It all begins with him being expelled from prep school, Pencey, for failing almost all his subjects. He decides to leave the premises after getting into a fight with his room-mate and feeling like no one understands him. All this about three days before the official leaving date. However, he doesn’t want his family to know yet that he has been expelled knowing that his mother in particular would be disappointed. Instead, he decides to go and stay in a hotel in New York. His adventures include drinking, smoking, refusing a hooker, setting up a date with girl he does not particularly like, all with disastrous endings. He is lonely, depressed and hates the phoniness around him. The only things he reminisces fondly about are his late brother Allie, his younger sister Phoebe and a girl he used to like (and probably still does), Jane.
I bought this book after hearing high praises about it and how it was a coming-of-age novel. Admittedly, I had high expectations. And unfortunately, the book didn’t meet those expectations. I got the themes of loneliness, alienation, hypocrisy of society and the fact that Holden most likely was clinically depressed but nobody seemed to know it. However, I just could not like him. He has got to be one of the most annoying characters and protagonists. I know depressed individuals are unable to see anything positive but his negativity was bloody draining. He kept referring to the phoniness of others and all the time I wanted to slap him on the head and tell him to get over himself. Because, by judging others as phoney, he came across that way too! I don’t know how it is a coming-of-age novel. In no way does it show me that his innocence was lost. He comes across as a whiny adolescent with too much money and too big for his boots. I have read other coming-of-age books and the loss of innocence where you really feel it (To Kill a Mockingbird, anyone?) but this one just did not do it for me. The writing style was also a bit frustrating with things ‘killing’ Holden and the ‘no kidding’ even in places you wouldn’t normally use it.
I don’t know if I’m missing something. I know others have rated it highly on Goodreads so I will be more than happy for you to comment on this and tell me why I am wrong!

My rating:

The only reason it’s not a 1 is because it still touches on issues of mental health which are always close to my heart. However, lots of other authors have done a better job on that topic.

Until next time,

***This has been cross-posted at Bond with Books***

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  • Gangubai
    1 April 2012 at 11:56 pm

    I HATED the book. Moreso because I had sky-high expectations from it. Holden comes across as a videshi Devdas(another character i despise) who is self-destructive. And the number of time he repeats the word ‘phony’ made me feel like giving him one tight slap 😀
    Many of my friends have loved the book. I just couldn’t get it.
    -1 from me.

  • Psych Babbler
    2 April 2012 at 5:13 am

    Thank God it wasn’t just me! I really started to wonder what was wrong…whether I was missing something completely…at one stage I wondered whether I’d got some dodgy version of the book!! All because I’ve heard it being spoken about so widely. And yes, you are right…he is self-destructive and that to me, is not depression but possibly bipolar. Even so, it didn’t do enough justice to the mental health problems. Haha… -1! 🙂 I was very generous with the 2 I will admit…

  • icyhighs (@icyhighs)
    2 April 2012 at 7:29 am

    This is an interesting take on possibly my favourite novel. (I’m not here to criticize the critic; no worries!) It may be partly because you had already heard so much about how great it is before you read it, but it sounds like you weren’t quite willing to get into ‘suspension of disbelief’ mode – ideal for any reader.

    The “writing style” is of course how the writer imagines a teenaged protagonist would speak – remember it was a different era, so slangs/usages/verbal ticks are bound to sound odd to you.

    Having said that, The Catcher is indeed a very real story – closer in theme perhaps to movies like Taxi Driver or novels like American Psycho, and not of the coming-of-age genre in the popular sense. He’s more self-righteous than self-destructive but again it’s open to interpretation. I hope you’ll give it another try.

  • Psych Babbler
    7 April 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Welcome here Icyhighs! I will admit that when I have had high expectations of a book, they have more often than not been shattered. Lovely Bones was another such book. I did keep in mind that this was written in the 50s but even so, it was infuriating and annoying to have a protagonist that is so whingy and yet, hypocritical. I mean, Holden talks about not liking people who are phoney and looks down on them and yet, he himself is being phoney (or hypocritical) when asking a girl he doesn’t like, out and the like. Not sure if I’ll give it another go. I must say after reading, I read some other reviews where people said they loved the book as a teenager but when they re-read it as adults, it was frustrating. I suppose it has the whole teenage angst to it but given that I was not your typical teenager, I probably would not have liked it back then either! :S