JD Salinger, the reclusive American author whose classic novel of adolescent angst and discovery The Catcher In The Rye, was required reading for generations of readers transfixed by its emotional turmoil, died yesterday aged 91 at his New Hampshire home.
The writer, as fierce in the defence of his literary legacy as he was about protecting his privacy, died of natural causes his agent said. Last year he sued to block publication of a non-authorised sequel to Rye.
In a statement the author's literary representative Harold Ober Associates said: “Despite having broken his hip in May his health had been excellent until a rather sudden decline after the new year. He was not in any pain before or at the time of his death.”
Jerome David Salinger, the son of a Scots-Irish mother and a Jewish businessman — a prolific importer of cheeses and meat — was raised in uptown Manhattan. Published in 1951, The Catcher In The Rye introduced the rebellious and iconoclastic teenager Holden Caulfield. It became Salinger's pinnacle achievement.
Written by a grown-up, the book spoke first to young readers who recognised in Caulfield the alienation they felt from older generations.
If calculating the book's cultural import is impossible, its sales tell their own story; more than 60 million copies have sold worldwide. To American critics it was clear at once: Caulfield was on course to replace Huckleberry Finn as America's favourite fictional truant.
Salinger spent most of his adult life avoiding the fame that the book had afforded him, hiding, to all intents and purposes, in the remote town of Cornish in New Hampshire. Journalists were turned away, as were all requests for his most famous work to be parlayed into new forms, including celluloid.
His literary output was frustratingly limited. Salinger published only a few books and collections of short stories throughout his career.. He had not published a new work since 1965, a short story published in the New Yorker.
Narrated by Caulfield from a mental institution, The Catcher In The Rye tells of his expulsion from a private school in Pennsylvania and return to his native Manhattan. Shocking in its frankness and some of its language, it was periodically banned by schools and libraries.
The book's message went on to inform other works of. More darkly, Mark Chapman who assassinated John Lennon said his motivation came from the pages of Rye. “This extraordinary book holds many answers,” Chapman once stated.
Like the character he created, Salinger was troubled at school and was sent to a military academy in Pennsylvania at 15. At the academy he began writing, and when he served in the US Army from 1942-1947, he carried a typewriter at all times, writing, he told a friend, “whenever I can find the time and an unoccupied foxhole”.