Monday 12 January 2009

The Catcher in the Rye – the jury is in.

Yesterday I finished reading The Catcher in the Rye, and here’s my verdict:

Did I like the book?
Yes, I liked it very much. It was a thoroughly entertaining read, and was glad to have given it another go after reading it in a bad Italian translation over fifteen years ago.

What did I like most?
Language, style, humour and characterization. It made me laugh out loud many times.

What didn’t work for me?
The ending is not strong enough, and the novel is not ambitious enough in terms of themes and ideas. The bit were Holden talks about being a “catcher in the rye” came across as a bit forced to me.

Would I publish it?
I’d sign a contract tomorrow, and pay six figures if I had the money.

What if it came as an unsolicited manuscript?
Difficult to say, but I think I would probably spot its qualities from the first two or three pages. Hopefully.

Did it sustain my interest throughout?
Yes, it did. But the middle part is a bit slow, and the ending doesn’t deliver the punch I was expecting.

The best bit in the book?
There are many fantastic one-liners, but if I have to choose one bit, I’d go for: “Old Spencer started nodding again. He also started picking his nose. He made out like he was only pinching it, but he was really getting the old thumb right in there.”

The best scene in the book?
Probably Chapter 4 – Holden’s conversation with the Ackley boy.

Comments on the package, editing, typesetting?
I love the package and the cover, and I think it’s a brave idea to have a book without a blurb and quotes on the cover or inside. I was told by the editor who worked on this book that the author gave strict rules about the size of his name on the front cover in relation to the size of the title, and that it took them about six months to agree on the exact wording of the short strap line on the back cover. The text has been very well edited and I would have quibbled only a handful of words or sentences. Apart from a few missing hyphens, I found only four clear-cut typos – which, considering the book was first published by Penguin in 1958 and then reprinted only seventy-two times, it’s not too bad… The typesetting is good, and there are only a few orphans – no widows to be reported. The paper is not great, so £8.99 is slightly on the steep side.

My final verdict?
While it’s not up there, for me, with American authors such as Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, Salinger is still a remarkable writer, and I believe this book will be read for many years to come, and possibly become a classic.

The next book I’m going to read is Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis, one of my wife’s favourites. I don’t have particularly high expectations, so I hope I’ll be pleasantly surprised.


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