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Saturday Review: Catcher in the Rye

I missed this one at school. I read titles like 1984 and Birdsong (both of which had scenes that went down well in class). It still rings very true despite having made the transition from teenager to young adult. The gap isn’t very large.

The voice is the key aspect of the writing. Salinger utilises the ‘additive style’ of sentence structure. That is, it seems to add more and more and more to the thought that is initially introduced. It’s artful and deliberate in the exhibition of randomness. At one point Holden Caulfield (our protagonist for those who haven’t read it) says that he likes people digressing, in reference to a speech giving class. And that’s what he gives us. Aimless chat. But it shows the reader exactly what goes through a young boy’s head. The frustration and meandering. The babbling on and saying no. It’s the disaffected youth to the letter.

It’s quite annoying, actually. I doubt anyone likes Holden. Sure, they get it, they may sympathise, but no one is going to be on Team Caulfield. I know I wanted to belt him around the ears and tell him to buck up. But that’s precisely the point. His hypocrisy is our hypocrisy; his deceitful actions are ours. It’s also slightly annoying because nothing really happens. It manages to keep us reading because of the voice, but in terms of plot it’s mundane. We’re given this snapshot into the mind of a muddled teenager, but it’s more than enough.

What can I take away? It’s a great example of voice—little words like Chrissake and the constant repetition of ideas. It shows how the right character can make any situation intriguing. And it shows once again that writers love writing about writing.

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