Review: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

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2.5 stars

 

As a poet, traveller and novelist, Kerouac put this all in his writing of his three year long road trip in the form of a 120 Ft scroll… which was then typed up and published in book form. A shame because who doesn’t love a scroll? Kerouac was part of the Beat Generation, a group of American post-world war II writers who’s stardom peaked in the 1950s. Kerouac changes the names of his fellow beats in On the Road, For example, Allen Ginsberg was Karlo Marx and William Burroughs, Old Bull Lee. Much of the novel revolves around Neal Cassidy (Dean Moriarty) who’s promiscuity, drinking habits and mad nature are focused upon in detail. Whilst the Beat Generation were wild in every single way, the character of Dean Moriarty took it to the ultimate extreme.

The Beat Generation are sometimes brushed off for their reckless attitude and some argue that there was no real ‘talent’ behind their writing, merely drinking, drugs and an arrogant undertone. However, after reading On the Road and researching the background at length I was pleased to find extremely beautiful writing at points that really made my heart beat.

One of the more famous quotes, but, nevertheless, one which I relate to is this: ‘…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.

Kerouac uses beautiful flowing words that reach out and transcend the space they’re written in. Yet, some words in On the Road are perhaps more relatable and have beauty in their simplicity. ‘I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.‘ This quote is another one of my favourites. It depicts the raw humanity and emotion that we experience.

But something which Kerouac failed to do as a writer was capture my attention throughout the novel. His words are indeed wonderful but I still find that it is lacking a turning point, a climax, a story. I found it difficult to persevere for long periods at a time, my attention span tested. The little moments of genius are too rare, for at no point was I hooked. Essentially, this is the result of spontaneous prose. Words were written without much pause for thought and no editing was made. Remember that huge scroll I mentioned? Kerouac took On the Road to the publishers in the form of the 120 Ft scroll which he never went back to change. It was a constant stream of thought which is perhaps why I find it so admirable. The small moments of genius, raw emotion were not edited, they came from Kerouac’s wonderfully mad and poetic mind in a moment, with sparks flying around in his brain. It’s amazing how he described such emotions so wonderfully so spontaneously.

I’d recommend On the Road, not only for it’s inspiring nature but also to enjoy, from Kerouac’s perspective, the glory of the ride and the thrill of travelling across North America.

Deeply profound and wild this novel definitely needs perseverance but is worth it in the end. 

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Wessex Scene Editor 2016-17, History Student, avid writer and music geek.

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