Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Happy Birthday-Ish, Holden Caulfield

I had a piece in the Irish Times during the week, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the publication of JD Salinger’s CATCHER IN THE RYE, which featured contributions from authors Sarah Webb, Ed O’Loughlin, Eoin McNamee and Belinda McKeon. It opened up a lot like this:
If you really want to know about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap …” - J.D. Salinger, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’

Routinely hailed as ‘the great American novel’, J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ offers a story that is on the face of it modest in ambition and scale. First published on July 16th, 1951, it follows the disaffected Holden Caulfield on his perambulations around New York city late in December, 1949, in the wake of his expulsion from an upmarket prep school. Intended by Salinger for an adult readership, Holden’s intensely first-person tale of his experiences amid the snobs and ‘phoneys’ of his social set has fired the imagination of generations of adolescents ever since.
  “God, I loved that book,” says Sarah Webb, herself an author of young adult novels, and who first read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ at the age of 15. “I read it in one all-night sitting, gobbling up every page. The next night I turned back to Chapter 1 and started all over again. I remember slowing down towards the end, distraught to be coming to the end. I wanted the reading experience to last forever.”
  Holden Morrisey Caulfield first appeared in the short story ‘I’m Crazy’, which was published in Colliers in 1945 (a previous version had been accepted in 1941 by The New Yorker, but not published, as it was thought too bleak in tone). A reworked version of ‘I’m Crazy’ would eventually provide the material for the first chapter of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, establishing Caulfield’s expulsion from Pencey Prep, and also the unfussy, stream-of-consciousness first-person narrative that seems to bypass the critical faculties to speak directly to the teenage heart.
  The novel sells roughly 250,000 copies per year, with total sales topping 65 million …
  For the rest, clickety-click here


adrian mckinty said...


By the time Salinger came to write the book, he'd fought through the Normandy campaign and the horrific battles of the Heurtgen Forest. He'd been part of an intelligence scouting unit that had liberated the first extermination camps. There are many layers to Catcher in the Rye but to me the book is mostly about Holden trying to cope with death. The death of his brother Allie.

The scene where he writes the essay about Allie's baseball mitt is one of the most moving in the novel.

Incidentally my wife wrote an essay for a book once that she called The Kvetcher in the Rye which explores Holden's complicated religious background. It turns out that he, like JD Salinger himself , has an Irish Catholic mother and a Jewish father. Just like Leopold Bloom too.

Declan Burke said...

Adrian - Nice touch about Salinger's war experience. Puts the novel in perspective, certainly. Someone else mentioned on Twitter that Catcher is tainted due to its association with Chapman and Hinkley, but I don't know ... Is it fair to tarnish a book because of some nutbag's association with it?

Cheers, Dec

John McFetridge said...

As enduring as the novel is, it also really captured the moment of post-war America when it was still in flux and the "fifties" as we see them in their "Ozzie and Harriet" blandness were just beginning - or just beginning to be seriously forced on America. From the end of the war until the Eisenhower administration there was a lot of turmoil (Truman integrated the armed forces, lots of strikes and labour unrest, all thos people who suffered most in the Depression wanted a different system) and America could have gone on a few different directions.

lil Gluckstern said...

I think John makes a good point. Life was supposed to be so orderly, but adolescence is a time of roiling hormones, and anxieties and annoyances. The world was not the orderly Levittown of our tv and movie screens. there were a lot of messes,"small" wars, the communist witch hunts-it wasn't post war heaven, and Holden really speaks to the carefully hidden or ignored messes.

Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

I have a vague memory of some article or other I may or may not have written about "The Catcher in the Rye". Perhaps this lacuna represents my lack of enthusiasm for the book best of all.

"Franny and Zooey" was more gripping and interesting I found... but I don't seem to remember why.

Boy, this brings me back to a world that is now very buried in the past.