by Jack Kerouac
ISBN 978 0 141 18267 4, first published in 1957, buy it on Amazon.
Usually I plan my book reviews and I do a little extra reading; but this time, I’m going to do something different – I’m going to do as Jack Kerouac did and write this review in ‘spontaneous prose’ – probably won’t be nowhere near as good as his but I’ll see how it goes…
Firstly, a little about Kerouac. He was born in March 1922 in Massachusetts. When he was four years old his brother died (at only nine years old) of a fever, naturally this deeply impacted on Kerouac’s life. He also had an older sister and spent much of his time with his mother who was a devout Catholic (traces of which can be found in On the Road).
After dropping out of Columbia University, Kerouac moved to New York City’s Upper East Side and met the now famous members of the Beat Generation. Names such as Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassidy (who is the inspiration for Dean Moriarty in On the Road). Kerouac wrote and published for many years before On the Road was released in 1957.
Kerouac died in 1969 from internal bleeding relating to his alcoholism.
He is now seen as the father of the Beat Generation – although he is probably more a single member of a larger body. The Beat Generation was a movement (cultural and literary) in America in the 1950s. To be part of this generation meant that you questioned your parent’s and their stiff conservatism, you were more open, judgemental of capitalism and a proponent of social equality, away from materialist culture. These ideas and ideals took the form of poetry and prose.
Looking at my notes whilst reading the book I don’t think that I was too keen, there was a lot of talk about ‘madness’.
The novel focuses on Sal Paradise (himself) and Dean Moriarty’s friendship as it changes and evolves. They travel together, across North America and back again, and possibly across it once more. You read of their drug use and sexual exploits (Dean seems to like younger women, around the age of 16 – not something I was a fan of), their relationships, falling in love – and the inevitable breakdowns. Basically, you read about a life well-travelled and a deep friendship.
The novel is split into six parts – the first I found a little slow, but after that, I was immersed in Sal’s world.
The more I read, the more I loved the book, and actually, I adore Kerouac’s style of writing – there were sentences, paragraphs that were purely beautiful.
“because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”
“A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world…”
“We turned a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time.”
“I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilized-within-the-photo lives, and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road.”
I just love them, this type of writing is scattered throughout – amazing.
I realise that I haven’t really said much about the plot and I guess that’s because the novel itself is quite ‘mad’ and the characters are constantly flying off somewhere, dashing here and there, Dean definitely is anyway.
This is a novel for anybody wanting to travel, there were moments I felt I was there, with them, probably not getting drunk or being ‘mad’ – but I was still there. Anybody wanting a little inspiration, somebody that wants to view life from a different perspective, and if you’re looking to understand living in a different way – a life lacking in structure, free, and available to do exactly what you want – then read this book.
On a side note, the eighteen page letter that Cassady sent to Kerouac in 1950 was recently on auction (The Joan Anderson Letter) after having been lost, then found in 2012.
And here is a small list of reads from the Beat Generation:
Jack Kerouac – On the Road
Allen Ginsberg – Howl (poem)
Neal Cassidy – The First Third (1971) – autobiographical
William S. Burroughs – Naked Lunch (1959)
Anyway, I hope you liked this review – it’s a little different to the others, let me know what you think in comments section below. If you like what you’re reading don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram.
All the best,