On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Hello, me again! So after perusing my bookshelf for the next book to begin I noticed something alarming – I’d missed On the Road off of my last post! I knew I was bound to forget a few but I feel awful for missing such a classic, so here’s its own little post:

I read On the Road on a recommendation from a friend. He said to me, “it’s a whirlwind of American culture”, and having been in love with The Great Gatsby, although of course that’s set approximately two decades earlier in the roaring 20s, I felt I was in the mood for a little more of the rolling jazz age and took it on.

On The Road Cover

At first I have to admit I wasn’t overly impressed. It seemed to me like an awful lot of fuss had been made about a book with absolutely no characterisation and very poor plot development. It raced along at such a pace that I hardly had time to process what was happening before Sal Paradise, the protagonist, was suddenly in a new town meeting a totally new bunch of people. My friend had described it as a ‘whirlwind’ but I felt it was more of a ‘stampede’. Sal spends the entire book galavanting around America accompanied by his best mate Dean Moriarty, hitchhiking with a great variety of different characters, sleeping in dodgy places, meeting new people, and drinking more than you’d think humanly possible. I mean, prohibition was over so why not I guess, but I think they took things to the extreme here.

After my initial disappointment, however, I decided to do a little research on the novel and discovered that it is totally biopic. I think it’s a case of not translating well. It’s a ‘you had to be there’ kind of thing, and somehow I don’t think the medium of fiction could possibly do it justice. If you were adventuring around with Kerouac and his mates I’m sure it was an absolute blast but reading about it on paper is just a bit of a let down.

It can be said, however, that I have a new-found respect for the novel upon learning this. It was written in a very short space of time (in fact Kerouac is known to have attached several pieces of paper together, making one long page so he wouldn’t have to pause to change the sheet in his typewriter – I think you can see it in a museum somewhere) and all the characters are people he knew and travelled with in real life. When you take into consideration that it is all authentic – from what he can remember in his intoxicated state anyway – then you realise the true power behind it. (N.B Kerouac died from cirrhosis of the liver so I’m guessing he definitely did over-do it with the drinking). On reflection, I’m not surprised there’s next to no characterisation and that the plot seems to run along at a million miles per hour. It was never meant to be the next award-winner with elegant descriptions and a steady Aristotelian plot structure. It wasn’t really meant to be a novel, just a memoir of his experiences. So maybe he’s not a great author but his devotion to writing is incredible and his passion comes straight from the soul.

Kerouac Manuscript

So after a little reflection I can say that I really enjoyed this novel. You just have to know a bit about it to truly appreciate its brilliance.

I’m now tempted to watch the 2012 film adaptation but Kristen Stewart is cast in the role of Mary Lou and I’m not sure I can bring myself to sit through that. (If I ever get round to it I’ll let you know what I think). It’s a shame all previous plans to make the movie fell through, it deserved a good, rustic 60s or 70s film. Maybe someone will make an epic remake in a couple of years to make up for it. Hint hint Hollywood.

On The Road Movie

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4 thoughts on “On the Road by Jack Kerouac

  1. Pingback: Desert Island Book Tag | The Book Review Page

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  3. I recently just finished reading this book and am having mixed thoughts about it. It definitely is not the best written book, but as you say it definitely is a whirlwind of American culture back in the day. So there’s a movie: Yay!
    Kristen Stewart : Nooo! Same reaction. Maybe I should ask someone if she acts okay in it before I decide to watch it XD I was really surprised to hear that he wrote it in one go! I kinda understand why he taped those papers together. When I write I need to have nothing hindering my train of thought too .

    • Yeah it definitely has its good bits and bad bits but overall I’m just very impressed with how it was written. I still haven’t gotten around to seeing the film so it might be wise to ask around, don’t want any of Kristen Stewart’s poor acting!

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