24 August, 2006

Holden Caulfield

"If you had a million years to do it, you couldn't rub out even half the 'Fuck you' signs in the world."

I've just finished reading The Catcher In The Rye for the very first time, and have no hesitation in declaring it to be one of the ten best books ever written.

I rue the fact it's taken me so long to get round to actually discovering it. I can't believe I've waited until the age of 30 to read something that would have made such an impression on me were I 16, the age of the book's narrator, hero, subject and everyman.

Still, it's moved me to tears and caught my breath and made me laugh even now, so either it has a timeless quality applicable to people of all ages, or I've still got too many blatant adolescent traits rattling around inside me for my own good.

So many universal truths are put into the mouth of Holden over what is, in essence, a fairly slim volume focusing on a very slim period of time. But what truths they turn out to be:

- "Anyway, I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will."

- "I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody."

- "Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell."

- "That's something that annoys the hell out of me; I mean, if somebody says the coffee's all ready and it isn't."

- "But what I mean is, lots of time you don't know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn't interest you most."

And so on.

Holden is such a plausible character it's almost painful to believe in him. His relationships with his few friends, his parents, in particular his younger sister, are beautifully drawn and desperately poignant.

But above all it was writer JD Salinger's ability to imbue even the most trivial of instances and common of occurances with such poetic beauty and emotional resonance which so affected me. Running across a snow-bound road; standing in a rainstorm; watching people from a hotel window; walking through a park at night; travelling on a train - he elevates all these experiences into grand epihanies and personal revelations.

It's a masterful book with a masterful message, and if you've never read it, I urge you to do so as soon as is practically possible.


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