In my eyes, for a book to be re-readable it is needs to be of a certain calibre. Even in a lockdown, life is too short to be wasted on mediocre stories. So when I scanned my bookshelf looking for a novel that was worth revisiting, there were few better candidates than J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye. Having first read the book when I was considerably younger, my enduring memories were that it was an outstanding piece of work with an instantly recognisable voice that thousands of writers have probably tried to emulate since. But I felt sure a second reading would enable me to draw a more detailed conclusion on what makes this book one of the most celebrated pieces of 20th century literature. And so, for the second time in my life, I dived in.
I did not have to look too far when searching for further explanations as to why the book is so brilliant. Holden Caulfield is quite simply a fascinating protagonist that constantly keeps you guessing, with his actions forming a narrative that urges you devour the book as quickly as possible. Wrestling with anxiety, depressed by his inability to form a meaningful platonic relationship and haunted by his failure to lose his virginity; Holden is a character swamped with issues who appears to have boarded a runaway train headed straight for implosion. And yet in spite of his problems, he shows flashes of wit that render him undeniably entertaining. As depression threatens to dampen him permanently, his sense of humour appears to represent the dying embers of a personality that we hope will survive the trauma of growing up. The fact that Salinger manages to make us a sympathise with a privately educated son of a lawyer, is testament to his writing, and, more specifically its tone; with Caulfield’s narration more than seventy years after initial publication remaining as distinctive as ever.
Through the eyes of an unforgettable lead character, Catcher in Rye’s exploration of eternal issues such as loneliness and growing up make it a book that is unlikely to lose its relevance any time soon.
Rating: 4.5/5 Salinger famously retreated into a reclusive lifestyle following the novel’s success. But as far as I’m concerned, any writer who produces something as good as Catcher in the Rye should thereafter be entitled to a life-long sabbatical if they require one.