Dual Reviews: Discovering J.D. Salinger and Revisiting Charles Dickens

Hey guys, gals and enthusiastic bookworms. I’ve decided to go all highbrow today and review some classics, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I’m pleased to say that I’ve come to really enjoy reading classics, they make for such an interesting reading experience because even if you don’t end up loving them, you always learn something! I went through a patch last year of not reading many, but my enthusiasm for them has recently been renewed so I picked these two off the Rory Gilmore Challenge to give a go. As always, I am not an English major, but here’s what I thought:

Overall Impression: A fascinating character study of a young teen full of contradictions.The Catcher in the Rye

I don’t know why this book works, but it does. On paper, it sounds oh so boring and like a school child’s required reading worst nightmare. It’s a book where nothing happens, where the main character after getting expelled from his private school, wanders around New York City meeting up with random people because he doesn’t want to go home and confront his parents. It’s a story about a whiny privileged white kid who throws opportunities to have a good life away, and yet somehow, despite sounding like a recipe for disaster and epic hate, it’s absolutely wonderful. But I can definitely see why this book has split so many opinions!

Like I’ve said above, this is not a plot driven novel, and for a good part of it I found myself saying ‘hmm, I’m sure there’s a plot around here somewhere…’ until I realised there really wasn’t. This book is all about one thing, Holden Caulfield and his self-exploration. The voice Salinger has created is entirely what carries The Catcher in the Rye, it’s completely unique. Through the use of endless colloquial slang, repetitive phrases and run on sentences that give the sense that the character is talking directly to the reader, Salinger makes Holden leap off the page in 3D colour. He’s hypocritical, a compulsive liar and a slacker, and if I had to stay in a room with him for more than 10 minutes I would probably end up slapping him or trying to escape through a skylight. And yet, on paper, I can’t help but like him, because despite all his bravado, confidence and assurance that he’s got everything worked out, he’s as vulnerable as a kitten and utterly lost. It a very interesting contradiction.

Throughout the novel Holden experiences a state of constant melancholy, he’s going through a time of change in his life, caught in that awkward transition between adolescence and adulthood where everything around him is changing and he’s not sure he wants to change with it. He sees the adult world as phony and pointless, and he can’t see how he’ll fit into it. He’s comforted by what’s familiar and wants to save others from having to experience the harshness of the world. As a reader we watch him stumble through conversations with people who don’t understand him, he hangs out with prostitutes, and ducks in Central Park, desperately seeking meaning and clinging to innocence and childhood pleasures. I think the reason Holden has become such an iconic character is because we all know a Holden Caulfield, maybe we even recognise a little of him in ourselves.

Overall, I really enjoyed this modern classic, and it was very easy to read so I’d definitely recommend it for classic newbies. I think if I had read it when I was younger for school, I wouldn’t have liked it at all or empathised with Holden’s struggles, so I’m glad I’ve come to it later in life on my own terms. I would probably recommend it most to people in their 20s. 🙂

Writing Style: 5/5 // Originality: 4/5 // Entertainment: 4/5 // Character Development: 5/5 //Would I recommend this book? Yes!
Overall: 4/5

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Overall Impression: An interesting excursion through the French Revolution (and a not so interesting love triangle).

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles DickensHm. Well, this wasn’t my favourite Dickens. Although A Tale of Two Cities had some interesting elements, I can’t seem to make myself feel the same endearment towards it that I have for Great Expectations or A Christmas Carol.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story (I was), it follows a young girl, Lucie, who receives news from a man named Mr Lorry that her father, long thought dead, is actually alive. Together, they retrieve him from a French prison and bring him back to England. Lucie, aware of her father’s fragile health and confused mind, dedicates her time to looking after him and her good looks and kind nature soon attracts admires. However, the families lives are interrupted when they find themselves and their loved ones caught up in the brutal French Revolution, and heads will roll…

So, although I didn’t LOVE this novel, my favourite aspect of it was the historical background.  Fun fact: I was a history buff at school, but knew nothing whatsoever about the French Revolution. I didn’t realise, until reading Dickens prose, how utterly brutal and bloodthirsty it was or how many innocent lives were lost to the dreaded guillotine. Dickens writes this beautiful description of peasants desperately scrambling to lap up wine from a broken cask in the streets, which soon becomes a metaphor for the rest of the book and the French peasants lust for blood. It’s the most memorable, horrific passage.

Unfortunately, I really struggled with the pacing of this novel. While I was hooked for the first and last few chapters, A Tale of Two Cities seemed to plateau painfully in between. Dickens prose seemed even more verbose than usual, and I regularly zoned out and had to reread passages. I also became somewhat confused by the plot at points (which is probably my fault, rather than the books).

The relationship between Lucie and her father was endearing, however, Lucie herself annoyed me. She was portrayed as such a stereotypical female of the time, a delicate little flower with no brains, only useful for caring for her father, looking after the household and rearing children, and it just made me really dislike her. You don’t get any insight into her as a person, and she is constantly being rescued and coddled because she’s useless and a slave to her emotions, often overcome by them, in fact. Ugh. She’s very much a character of the time who doesn’t sit quite so well in the modern age.

In contrast, the male characters were interesting and complex (of course). Lucie’s father was fascinating, Mr Lorry was instantly likable for standing by the family through their troubled times, Darnay was an idiot, but a chivalrous idiot with a big heart, while Carton who initially seems like a depressed, drunken waste of space, soon proves his strength of character in a way that will forever immortalise him in English literature. Unfortunately, all these male characters were utterly spellbound by Miss Lucie’s beauty, which was a bit annoying.

I also have to give a shoutout to Mr and Mrs Defarge, who are probably the most vile, cruel and barbaric of Dickens characters I have met to date, oh how I loved them!

Overall, I found A Tale of Two Cities to be a mixed bag, I loved some aspects of it and the ending left me gawping in shock, but the majority of the reading experience was a struggle; but I’m glad I read it. I can definitely understand why it’s a classic! I wouldn’t recommend this to classic newbies because it’s pretty tough going, but for Dickens fans and history buffs it’s a must read. 🙂

Writing Style: 3/5 // Originality: 4/5 // Entertainment: 3/5 // Character Development: 4/5 //Would I recommend this book? Yes!
Overall: 3/5

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Have you read either of these classics by choice or due to school education? Were you one of those people who struggled through Dickens and Salinger hating every minute? Have you even found you’ve enjoyed a classic more when returning to it later in life? Let me know in the comments!

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18 thoughts on “Dual Reviews: Discovering J.D. Salinger and Revisiting Charles Dickens

  1. I didn’t mind Salinger, actually. I thought Holden Caulfield was a pretentious git but was otherwise digestible. Out of all schools reads, that was one of the more enjoyable ones. Has the same vibe as The Perks of Being a Wallflower and some of John Green’s books.

    I haven’t read Dickens. I’ve wanted to but EH.

    • Haha, he definitely is a pretentious git. I never enjoyed any of the books I read for English, so I’m kind of glad this wasn’t on the list because I’m sure I would have come to dislike it!
      Yes, I was thinking that while writing my review actually, that Salinger was probably the inspiration for people like Chobosky, I hadn’t considered John Green, though, good point. 🙂

      He is one wordy man, but some of his stories are truly amazing. If you do give him a go, definitely start with Great Expectations!

  2. Tale of Two Cities isnt my favourite Dickens either, but it has a cracking opening! Salinger on the other hand, bloody love him! Catcher in the Rye was my favourite teenage read!

  3. Going against the two previous comments and your review…I loved AToTc! Despite its high melodrama, it’s really Carton who carries it for me. Not to mention the delightful Jerry Cruncher. Dickens didn’t do much with Lucie but have her as the passive centre of it all. How lucky we are to live in a world where we can have Katniss and Tris!

    • I know A Tale of Two Cities is your favourite Dickens, I wish I could have liked it more! I feel like, if I had read it closer to when it was published I would have been much more impressed, I just couldn’t get past my frustration with Lucie because she was so central to the story, even though I tried knowing the context of the times! Haha, indeed. I’m not sure I’d survive otherwise. 🙂

      Oh yeah, I forgot about Cruncher!

  4. Never read either of those books. In school they stuck us with Jane Austen (ugh), George Miller (hurl-your-book-across-the-room-ugh) and Shakespeare. Though I’ve read a couple of books by Dickens (willingly!), of which David Copperfield remains one of my favourite classics. I’m not sure why, but it’s really such an entrancing book. I haven’t read it in ages though and can barely remember the events… will have to pick it up soon! 🙂

    • Ohh nooo, not Jane Austen. She’s definitely not my fave classic writer, neither is Shakespeare, ugh! I haven’t heard of George Miller, but from the sounds of it, that’s a good thing, LOL.
      Oooh, awesome. I was actually thinking I might pick up David Copperfield as my next Dickens. The size of it is a bit intimidating, though! I’ve seen a few adaptions and enjoyed them, and something tells me Dickens writing will make the story even better. 🙂

  5. I read Catcher in the Rye back when I was in high school, and it is possibly the only book I’ve never liked at all. Don’t remember enough of the content to tell you what I thought of that, but I remember thinking it was just really repetitive and depressing. However, considering all the good reviews I’ve seen about it, I have been thinking of re-reading it now that I’m a bit older – in my 20s now actually, so might take you up on your suggestion and give it another go.

    • Ohh no, that’s a shame. I really can understand why so many people dislike this book, though. Those unique repetitive writing styles can really rub you up the wrong way – I didn’t get on with the Perks of Being a Wallflower for instance, even though everyone else loved it! Catcher is a pretty depressing book – the character does spend most of his time moaning.

      I would say it is definitely worth revisiting. 🙂 I think it suits the 20s-kinda age group quite well because of Holden’s obsession/confusion with being between childhood and adulthood and not understanding where he fits.

  6. How have I only just got around to reading this review?!

    You have no idea how indescribably thrilled I am that you liked Catcher. I found myself nodding and enthusiastically muttering ‘YES’ to all of your points. It’s definitely one of those marmite books and always provokes debate!

    I honestly had no idea what Two Cities was about so you’ve enlightened me there. I’m definitely interested but I don’t think it’s gone to the top of my classic TBR list. Great Expectations is one of my favourites and I definitely want read more Dickens in the future, but his books are such a commitment because of their size and his writing style! Can you get through all of his known works and write reviews so that I can read them and feel like I’ve put in the effort? k thanks.

    • Well, because you’ve been busy conquering the world of course. 😉

      I must admit, I did think while reading this ‘if I don’t like it Charl will be madddddddd, hehehe. I remembered how much you loved it and kept my fingers crossed that I would feel the same. I’m so glad I did! It’s one of those books that I immediately wanted to start all over again after reading it. 🙂

      I didn’t either! Agreed, don’t bother putting it at the top. WELL, I do own almost the entire Dickens collection so GIVE ME TIME AND I WILL GIVE YOU ALL THE KNOWLEDGE. I’m trying to read one a year.

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