Holden Revisited

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Two photographs exist of me reading The Catcher in the Rye. One was taken thirty years ago by my father, on the top bunk bed in a sleeper train bound for Edinburgh. I was 19. The book was the orange Penguin edition, which I’d recently bought in Cambridge market.

The other was taken by my husband in December 2011, at home in London. I was 48, on the sofa with the dog. The book was the very same Cambridge market paperback, my maiden name in neat hand-writing in the top right-hand corner of the pre-title page.

To read that book aged 19 and aged 48 is to read it in two quite different ways. As I reread it last year, moved to tears by its poignancy, I tried to relive the experience of reading it for the first time thirty years ago. What was that chubby-cheeked undergraduate’s reaction as she got to know Holden Caulfield while passing through Doncaster, York and Northallerton?

I think she was thinking how cool it all was. How cool I was to be reading this coolest of books!

If you really want to hear 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, but I don’t feel like going into it.

So nonchalant and depressive was the narrator’s tone, from the very first sentence, that I think I subconsciously adopted a corresponding gum-chewing facial expression while reading. The very fact that the narrator didn’t ‘feel like going into it’ made me ache to find out. He had refused to proffer any information, and had done so in a bored way, yet I was gripped

My parents would have about two haemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.

And so flippant about his parents! So immediate, so direct was the narrator’s voice that it felt

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About the contributor

Though not a nervous wreck like Holden Caulfield’s mother, who’s ‘up all night smoking cigarettes’, Ysenda Maxtone Graham does suffer from bouts of sleeplessness. Her short hymn to this condition, An Insomniac’s Guide to the Small Hours, was published last year.

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