I used to find the literary technique ‘deep point of view’ pretty annoying. When I first heard it described in our writing workshop by tutor Karen Whitelaw I admit I put it in the I’ll-never-use-that basket. I believed good writing was about showing a character’s thoughts and opinions through their actions, not from spelling out exactly what was going on in their head. I guess I saw ‘deep point of view’ as the lazy way out.
Ahhhhh… but then I read The Catcher in the Rye.
This story, written in 1951 and set mainly in New York, is written deeply in the mind of teenager Holden Caulfield. It is written as though he sat down with you – no doubt over a packet of cigarettes – and rambled a story for a few hours, then it was transcribed word-for-word into a book.
I can’t think of any particular scene that shows this, so I’ll randomly pick a paragraph by closing my eyes and putting my finger on a page:
At the end of the first act we went out with all the other jerks for a cigarette. What a deal that was. You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were. Some dopey movie actor was standing near us, having a cigarette.
The language used in this story puts you right in the centre of the action. I don’t hear a narrator telling me about Holden, I hear Holden himself. I hear him saying words like ‘phoney’, ‘sore’, ‘dopey’, ‘flit’, ‘ ‘yellow’ and his favourite, ‘that killed me’. I’m walking the streets of New York, sneaking into apartments, fighting pimps and sleeping at the station.
We only see a snippet of Holden’s life – just under 48 hours’ worth – but he reveals so much of himself in that short period I feel like I’d known him a lifetime. It’s like a short story in a way: a zoomed in section of a much larger and complicated life. It’s a chronological, no-fuss description of what happened, told in the words of the main character. And it’s brilliantly done.
So, not only did JD Salinger manage to claim (so far) the title of quickest read book of my 100 book challenge – I finished it in just 5 days – he also convinced me that ‘deep point of view’, when done properly, can be the perfect way to hook the reader in and keep them there to the very last page.
In July 2014 I set myself the challenge to finish 100 must-read books before I die. For my ongoing tally click here.