Saturday, 30 January 2010


I learnt of JD Salinger's death shortly after I'd finished reading the brilliant 'Youth', the second part of Gregor von Rezzori's 'Memoirs of an Anti-Semite: A Novel in Five Stories' (recommended to me by Gadjo).

The coincidence got me wondering why we find the bildungsromanthe coming-of-age novel - Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye' being probably the best-known modern example - so perennially fascinating. We've loved them ever since Goethe's smash-hit 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' had moody young men mooning about all over Europe.

My guess is that the revelatory subject matter - the revealing of the adult world to a youth - lends itself to the novelist's more general task of revelation (don't literary novels always aim to unveil the true nature of things?). I'm sure we also enjoy reading about that period of our lives when so many significant things are experienced for the first time (yes, sex, of course: thrilling, fearful, fascinating - few would have no interest in vicariously exploring that territory again).

Whilst I'm not a great one for novel-reading, here are a few that have made an impression, in no particular order:

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
First Love - Ivan Turgenev
Youth (a story within Memoirs of an Anti-Semite) - Gregor von Rezzori
The Buddha of Suburbia - Hanif Kureishi
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
The Rachel Papers - Martin Amis
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens [the only Dickens I've really enjoyed]

I ran this list past T. Off the top of her head, she would add 'Cat's Eye' by Margaret Atwood and metaphorically throw 'The Rachel Papers' across the room (as would most women - the truth is pretty awful to learn).


Gadjo Dilo said...

Glad you're enjoying the book, Gaw :-) (And it was No Good Boyo who recommended it to me - credit where it's due.) I'd personally add to that list Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, and mention the girl protagonist in Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, which had a great effect on me.

malty said...

Salinger must be one of those rare authors whose work was introduced to parents, by their children, at least in my generation. JD who? the catcher in what? anything to do with tennis rackets? No dad, he's a writer.

Goethe was chuffed to nuts when Young Werther went down well, from The Periodical Issues on Morphology...

Nothing of all this is apparent to the young man involved in the process; he sees, enjoys, makes use of the youth of a predecessor and in this way edifies himself from his own innermost being as though he had already at one time been what he now is.
In a similar, indeed identical way I rejoice in the manifold echoes reaching me from foreign lands. Foreign nations are later in getting to know our youthfull works; their young men, their older men, striving and active, see their own image mirrored in us; they come to realise that we too wanted what they now want; they draw us into their companionship and give us the illusion of youth returning.

Johann Wolfgang, in one of his man is a dogs best friend moods, note the exclusion of burdz, perhaps they didn't read much in those days.

Morgenstern, who coined the term bildungsroman had his portrait painted by von Kügelgen who also painted Goethe. Both portraits hung side by side in Koln's Walraf museum for many months, wonder if they had a chat.
When Goethe's portrait was first installed I often used to pass the time of day with him, fascinating man.

dearieme said...

All I remember of Catcher in the Rye is laughing immoderately. But then I did at Lucky Jim too. And Amis went on to write other funny ones.

Hey Skipper said...

I tried reading CITR when I was in high school.

Didn't like it; the protagonist put me right off.

It seems I need to give it another try.

Vern said...

CITR probably best read between the ages of 16-19. I read it twice. Certainly wouldn't do so again for fear of the Dr Who syndrome (watching Tom Baker in action again as an adult and discovering the show was creaking corny and really terrible).

worm said...

I have to say I quite liked Vernon God Little as a good example of an 'angry young man' book

never got on with Cider with Rosie though

Gaw said...

Gadjo: I've never got on with Lawrence, I'm afraid. I haven't read the other one and given your previous reco I really should.

Malty: Thanks Malty. Great to get back more than you give!

Dearieme: I really enjoyed CITR when I read it as a young lad. I wonder what I'd make of it now. Talking of Amis, he did a good job on what I suppose we should call the 'Passing of Age' novel: The Old Devils.

Skipper: I had a similar experience with another cult novel, On the Road. I have rarely loathed a book more.

Vern: Don't tell me! I still like to think Tom Baker is untouchable.

Worm: Try 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' by Laurie Lee (and a sequel to Cider). I bet you £10 you like it.

worm said...


Vern said...

Worm, what are you saying? Vernon God Little is dogsh!t, from start to finish. Over written hysterical bollocks, stuffed with walking talking cliches. Pierre's view of the US is derived from watching the Jerry Springer Show while on the dole. Dreadful dreadful, dreadful.

At least that's what I think.

Gaw said...

Vern: An enjoyable bit of pithy but imaginative abuse. I'm tempted to give VGL a kicking myself but haven't read it so will have to walk on by. I wonder whether there's an equally vehement defence?

malty said...

Gaw, have been reading As I Walked Out for ever, captures the awfull, surreal futility of civil wall, even though Lee tells masses of porkies, if it happened like that then I am Geronimo's auntie.
As an account of the ordinary man caught up in war it is the equal of Spike Milligans.

Gaw said...

Malty, I should have included it in my list here. I didn't as I lazily thought of it as memoir rather than fiction!

AIWOOMM contains one of my most long-lived fantasies: walking out into the sunshine one day for an indefinite tramp. Will never happen, of course, and if it did it would probably be awful (cf. Down and Out in Paris and London!).

worm said...

Vern, even though I liked VGL (I too was a rather troubled and unpleasant oikish youth of similar charmlessness) I have little motivation to defend DBC Pierre, due to his second book being a pathetic dribble. I may have to re-read VGL just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating at the time

Vern said...

Maybe better just to leave it alone and retain warm memories of time well spent- even if it was a hallucination.

I once encountered Pierre in the flesh. He is an arse.