The Catcher in the Rye

…by J. D. Salinger.

Holden Caulfield is a sixteen year old adolescent who narrates how he has reached where he currently is. It all begins with him being expelled from prep school, Pencey, for failing almost all his subjects. He decides to leave the premises after getting into a fight with his room-mate and feeling like no one understands him. All this about three days before the official leaving date. However, he doesn’t want his family to know yet that he has been expelled knowing that his mother in particular would be disappointed. Instead, he decides to go and stay in a hotel in New York. His adventures include drinking, smoking, refusing a hooker, setting up a date with girl he does not particularly like, all with disastrous endings. He is lonely, depressed and hates the phoniness around him. The only things he reminisces fondly about are his late brother Allie, his younger sister Phoebe and a girl he used to like (and probably still does), Jane.

I bought this book after hearing high praises about it and how it was a coming-of-age novel. Admittedly, I had high expectations. And unfortunately, the book didn’t meet those expectations. I got the themes of loneliness, alienation, hypocrisy of society and the fact that Holden most likely was clinically depressed but nobody seemed to know it. However, I just could not like him. He has got to be one of the most annoying characters and protagonists. I know depressed individuals are unable to see anything positive but his negativity was bloody draining. He kept referring to the phoniness of others and all the time I wanted to slap him on the head and tell him to get over himself. Because, by judging others as phoney, he came across that way too! I don’t know how it is a coming-of-age novel. In no way does it show me that his innocence was lost. He comes across as a whiny adolescent with too much money and too big for his boots. I have read other coming-of-age books and the loss of innocence where you really feel it (To Kill a Mockingbird, anyone?) but this one just did not do it for me. The writing style was also a bit frustrating with things ‘killing’ Holden and the ‘no kidding’ even in places you wouldn’t normally use it.

I don’t know if I’m missing something. I know others have rated it highly on Goodreads so I will be more than happy for you to comment on this and tell me why I am wrong!

I give it a rating of 2. The only reason it’s not a 1 is because it still touches on issues of mental health which are always close to my heart. However, lots of other authors have done a better job on that topic.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

The Man who loved Children

… by Christina Stead.

First and foremost, don’t let the title put you off. This isn’t a story about paedophilia. Rather, it is about an American family — the Pollits. The head of the family is Sam Pollit — a chauvinist, a narcissist, who loves his children, enjoys his work as a public servant and believes his morals and his way of living is the right way of living. Then there is his wife. His second wife, Henny Pollit. With physical and possibly, mental health issues of her own. And a brood of children — Louise (aka Louie) from his dead first wife, Rachel, Ernest, Evelyn (aka Evie), Sam and Saul (twins) and Tommy. The children are unaware of their mother’s misery and together with Sam take it in their stride. However, Louie seems to be able to see through her father at times. Not always though. Sam basically can’t provide for his huge family and Henny is snobbish enough to not be able to budget despite borrowing from others.

During this period, Sam gets sent to Singapore for a period of 10 months on work. Upon his return, he is faced with crises. His wife gives birth again. To a son named Charles. His rich father-in-law dies leaving them nothing. And he has to move his family from their home as his late father-in-law didn’t leave it to them. And finally, he loses his job thanks to negative reviews from Singapore. As he loses his job, Sam ends up staying home and being a father to his children as well as other kids from the neighbourhood. He talks about eccentric views and ideas while at the same time treating his wife like shit. His behaviour towards Louie sways from one end to the next. He is sweet at times and viciously mean at others. Unfortunately, he seems to think it is all in jest and the other children get their laughs too. All in all, it tells the story of a highly dysfunctional and unhappy family.

This is a massive book spanning about 500 plus pages. But the story woven by Stead is remarkable. It appears to be so realistic that you cringe and you worry with the characters. Despite the fact that it was set back in the 1940s or so, you could readily believe a story like this to be set in the current day. There are still such dysfunctional families. There are still such unhappy families. There are men like Sam who continue to believe where a woman’s place is supposed to be. It was probably worse back then  but it exists even now. His brutality and violence towards Henny, both physically and emotionally make you loathe him. The manner in which he treats his children is also written beautifully. He truly believes he loves them. He has nicknames for the entire lot. But at the same time, should they think contrary to him, they face his wrath in the form of words. The book leads up beautifully to a climactic ending which isn’t necessarily a happy one.

Apparently, the book was first based in Sydney but in a re-issue edition in 1965 (which I ended up reading), it was changed to an American family based in Washington. It’s a bit disappointing because I would have preferred to read the original version. However, it looks like the American one is the only one in print.

To sum up, this book is a brilliant look into dysfunctional families. How unhappy life can get when adults in the family don’t act their role and remain idealistic and self-involved. Some of the reading might be a bit difficult due to Sam’s eccentricities and the manner in which he says things but the reader can definitely get past that. I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

***This has been cross-posted on my personal blog***

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is a modern literary classic written by William Golding. The book begins with a plane crashing into a deserted island and the only survivors are a group of British school boys aged 13 and under. Most of the boys don’t know each other apart from a group of them who are part of a school band.

Some of the school boys include

Ralph – he is chosen as the Chief of the group because of his attractive looks and apparent leadership skills.

Jack – the leader of the band, resentful at not being voted Chief but still leading some of the boys to hunt for pigs on the island.

Simon – a quiet and sensitive boy, apparently ‘odd’ to the others around his age.

Piggy – an intelligent, bespectacled and overweight boy, unfortunately nicknamed thus. He is the boy picked on by the others.

Sam and Eric – A pair of twins who do everything together and are almost a single entity.

Roger – A member of Jack’s band and his group of hunters.

What starts off as an attempt to run a society with rules and regulations until they can be rescued eventually goes pear-shaped. At night, the boys’ dreams, particularly the little ones, are haunted by an image of a terrifying beast. A rift occurs between the older boys in terms of leadership. And finally, their behaviour becomes more savage and takes on a murderous turn not necessarily for the sake of survival.

I had heard of this book years ago but only just got my hands on it thanks to my book club. It is a fantastic read. It makes you understand the importance of living in a society with law and order — and more importantly, consequences of breaking certain rules. Through the boys’ behaviour, you can see what would happen in a society where there were no consequences. Furthermore, you get an insight into how groupthink works versus an individual thinking for himself. And how if that groupthink is not necessarily the most moral form, it can have disastrous results. For me, another issue it seemed to bring up was that some individuals in this world can in fact be born evil. All they need is the space and the trigger to engage in the evil behaviours. You can see it in the difference between some of the characters — how some thrive on murder and others have a conscience. Of course, those that thrive on the savage behaviours also have a ‘mask’ of almost anonymity to protect them. And it makes you wonder, if that were the case in society, how many individuals would be that way?

The book is quite disturbing yet fascinating. For me personally, some of the characters reminded me of some clients. And that’s a scary thought. It was made into a movie in the 60s I think and I’m curious to watch it. To sum it up, this book deserves a rating of 5.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

To Kill a Mockingbird

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee is an American classic. Set in the deep south in the fictional town of Maycomb in the 1930s, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel is narrated by eight year old Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch. Scout lives with her older brother Jeremy ‘Jem’ Finch and father Atticus Finch. Scout is a tomboy who enjoys roughing it up with Jem and together they befriend Dill, who lives with his aunt next door during summer. Their summers consist of enacting stories, climbing trees, and trying to entice the elusive Boo Radley to come out of his house. Scout and Jem live a pretty good life in sleepy old Maycomb. Scout has the usual problems with bullies, the usual sibling rivalry with Jem and hates school because she apparently has learnt too much prior to starting school, arguments with her aunty because she is not ‘ladylike’ enough and has plans with Dill to marry him when they are both of age.

Everything is pretty routine for Scout and Jem until they find out that Atticus is defending a black man, Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell. In the racist and narrow-minded society of the 30s, Atticus is seen by majority of the townsfolk as a traitor. For them, it’s one thing to be assigned to defend a black man but it’s a totally different thing to actually make an effort to defend him. And Scout and Jem are forced to face the harsh reality of society. Jem being slightly older, has formed his views. Scout, on the other hand, is still trying to gather information to make up her mind. She doesn’t understand why her father has to defend a black man. She doesn’t understand the manner in which society is reacting to him. She doesn’t understand why some people are hypocritical (even if she doesn’t use the word ‘hypocrisy’).

Despite Atticus’ efforts and despite clearly casting reasonable doubt, the all white male jury convicts Tom Robinson. And what follows is anger and incredulity on Jem’s part and confusion on Scout’s. And through them, a greater insight into the kind of society they live in. The racist and hypocritical nature of majority of the population. The appalling injustice faced by the blacks.

This one question she poses about her teacher to Jem pretty much sums up all seems muddled in her head:

Miss Gates is a nice lady, ain’t she?

‘Why sure,’ said Jem ‘I liked her when I was in her room.’

‘She hates Hitler a lot…’

‘What’s wrong with that?’

‘Well, she went on today about how bad it was him treatin’ the Jews like that. Jem, it’s not right to persecute anybody, is it? I mean, have mean thoughts about anybody, even, is it?’

‘Gracious no, Scout. What’s eatin’ you?’

‘Well, coming out of the court-house that night Miss Gates was – she was goin’ down the steps in front of us…she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it’s time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home -?’

It’s a coming-of-age story and a literary classic. In some ways, you can also see that things have changed to a certain extent. I’m sure many of you must have read this book at some stage in your lives. If you haven’t, I advise you to read it as soon as possible! It’s definitely one of those must-read books in your lifetime. Jasper Jones has shades of this book but in an Australian context with a few other issues added. I rate it a 5.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!