Reviews: S

Review: ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger

Firstly, I don’t know what I have to write will add a lot more to what has already been written about this cult classic. It’s simply one of those books one must read in their lifetime.

catcherThe story begins when Holden Caufield is expelled from yet another prep school, Pencey. Before he leaves, Holden narrates his school life and some of his fellow students, none of whom he particular likes. Phoniness and superficiality is something that really ticks Holden off and he believes that the majority of people he meets is insincere except himself.

After having some sort of minor mental break down after he writes a composition about his dead younger brother’s baseball glove, which was scribbled all over with poetry, for his roommate he leaves the school to wander around New York and to wait for news of his expulsion to reach his parents. The rest of the story follows his stumbling about New York looking for truth and companionship. Growing up and the changes in adolescence also subconsciously concerns Holden who decides that the one thing he would like to do in life is to be the catcher in the rye. It is an idea he got from hearing a child mis-quote singing a Robert Burns poem, ‘Comin’ through the rye’. Holden would like to place himself on a cliff and be ready to catch any children who falls out through the rye and prevent them from plummeting off the cliff which would save the children from having to go through adolescence and confront the difficulty of growing up and losing the innocence of childhood.

Holden Caulfield is a likeable character and very funny but he is consumed by depression that, while he’ll admit to now and then, he fails to acknowledge. It is startling clear that Holden is desperately lonely. Out of life, he wants nothing but to see genuineness and truth from his fellow human citizens. One of the most endearing characteristics of Holden is his constant noticing of the underdogs or the background characters. In plays, movies, books and in life, the secondary characters always catches Holden’s attention and it’s quite moving. Another particularly endearing trait is his love and kindness to his younger siblings – his younger brother, Allie, with the baseball glove who died of leukemia and a sister, Phoebe, to who he eventually goes home to see. As the story unfolds, it is clear that Allie’s death still affects Holden and is unresolved grief. Another incident towards the end of the story also suggests that he may have been molested at some stage during his time at school which would explain Holden’s insistence of continually getting expelled. Holden’s troubled and repressed feelings eventually catches up with him.

I first read this book when I was 16 and I really didn’t like it. Perhaps choosing a book with such a strong, male, anti-hero protagonist was not really the type of material 16 year old girls naturally gravitate towards not to mention that the historical context was quite unfamiliar to me. On re-reading, I have enjoyed it quite a lot and I think growing up has everything to do with it. I empathise with Holden and understand his contempt for the superficiality of fellow humans. I don’t think of him as a rebel, as most criticism has labelled him as, but one who has precociously seen and desire the truth.

Review: ‘Lucky’ by Alice Sebold

In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheatre, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky.

luckyThis preface made up part of the cover of a previous edition of Alice Sebold’s amazing memoir and it is part of a longer preface leading into her recollections. From the very first sentence, there is no pretension or mistake about what the memoir was going to be about. It focuses entirely on Sebold’s rape, her virginity and inexperience with sex (she was a virgin when she was raped) when Sebold was an 18 year old freshman at Syracuse University, the aftermath and its consequences for most of her adult life. Nothing is held back when Sebold details her rape and recounts the moment when she wanted nothing more in the world than to live. After several attempts to escape –

Then I began to run. Like a giant who is all powerful, he reached out and grabbed the end of my long brown hair … that was my first missed escape, the hair, the woman’s long hair

Sebold relents to the demands of the rapist in order to live. This becomes a little problematic during the court proceedings down the track where the adage, ‘it is better to be dead than to be raped’, was still a popular consensus.

Intertwined with Sebold’s story is her childhood and stories about her somewhat dysfunctional family – a mother who was previously an alcoholic and ver nervous, a somewhat reclusive father who was more interested in his books than the family and an older sister whose main motive was to plot her escape away from the family. The two sisters never seem particularly close and, I think, that Sebold writes with guilt that she always managed to spoil her sister’s special moments and never letting her shine. Alice was raped on the day of her sister’s exam and her trial against her rapist was on the day of her sister’s graduation.

Sebold’s story is bravely told and the writing is amazing. There were so many times when I ached for her when Sebold recounts her physical injuries which were quite severe. There were many times where I was moved to tears. Her story also sheds light on how one moment, one horrendus moment, can have such a devastating lifelong impact. While Sebold gains justice in the end and she manages to finish her degree (not to mention taking writing classes from Tess Gallagher and Tobias Wolff), there is no justice for the pain and suffering the rape had caused and perhaps continue to cause.

The ending, as most of us will know, is a quite happy one. Sebold later wrote (the memoir was publised in 1999) The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon and is married to the writer Glen David Gold.

Review: “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink

However, the fact that I had no driven her away did not change the fact that I had betrayed her. So I was still guilty. And if I was not guilty because one cannot be guilty of betraying a criminal, then I was guilty of having loved a criminal.
[Minor spoilers]

Schlink’s story centres on the relationship between Michael Berg and an older woman, Hanna Schmitz, who is almost double his age. Their affair would prove to haunt the two for the rest of their lives. During the relationship the two create a pattern where Michael frequently reads aloud to Hanna who becomes entirely consumed in this activity.¬† When the relationship have appeared to run its physical course during Michael’s final year at high school, Hanna suddenly disappears one day and Michael is filled with guilt at his behaviour the last time he saw her.

Michael sees Hanna again while he is at university studying law. He recognises Hanna in the coutroom that is trying a group of women, including Hanna, for war crimes. Michael is forced to confront his love, or perhaps intense attraction or infatuation, for Hanna and the heinous crimes she may have committed. Much of the blame is directed as Hanna in the courtcase while Michael discovers a secret that Hanna is willing to be senteced to life in jail in order to protect it. Frustated, Michael lets the the court runs its course without interference and Hanna is sentenced.

Eight years later, Michael is wracked with insomnia. He cannot sleep nor read quietly so he reads aloud. Remembering how he once used to read aloud for Hanna, Michael tapes his readings and sends them to Hanna, who is still in jail.

This silent and omnipresent relationship is haunting. Despite the two spending so little time together physically and barely communicating, their relationship is poignant and dysfunctional, spreading through both character’s lifetime.

Schlink’s holocaust novel is not your typical story. It also deals with the Nazi crimes and era by exploring its effect on the second generation. The parents of the post-war generation were a part of such a heinous history, whether indirectly or directly, and their children ultimately point their fingers at their parents condeming them to shame.

Part philosophy, part romance and partly dealing with the Holocaust, Schlink’s novel is beautiful to read and powerfully evocative.