One of the classic cult books, this is one on everyones ‘ultimate reading list’. I have to admit I only picked it up initially after a good friend of mine started some of the Route 66 journey that Jack is synonomous with, after hearing so much about the book. When it was released in 1957, The New York Times hailed it as “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is.”
It’s a book I think you need to have context with to appreciate – the first time I didn’t, and I only lasted 2 chapters before putting it down. Jack Kerouac took 2-3 years to dream the novel up in small notebooks, chopping and changing it, but 3 weeks to type the novel out on a 120ft scroll in an almost ‘stream of consiousness’ style, as it he was writing a letter to a friend. See the succint Wikipedia article for insight into the context.
The second time I picked the novel up, I must have matured a bit more (much like with Terry Pratchett novels), because the rolling, almost fluid style became a lot easier to take in, and seemed to portray the ‘fierce quest for meaning and belonging’ in such a raw way. It certainly does make you want to jump in a car with $50 and a compass, a good friend (definately not Dean Moriarty though) and cruise up Route 66.
It does feel fairly ‘stop and start’ in places, but that’s life – “Somewhere along the line I knew there would be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.” and that’s their journey. It deals with youth, marriage, drinking, working – all the stalwarts. BUT it is a classic for a reason, and the way that Jack deals with his ‘itchy feet’ and being unable to put down roots, not settling into the 9-5 doldrums which appealed to me. It’s a intense case of Donkey on the Edge – but if some travellers look into why they travel to far away lands on the other side of the world, it may resonate with Sal’s (the main character) needs.
The reason behind picking it up again is two-fold; I stumbled across an exhibition in the British Museum of the actual scroll, and a movie of On The Road is coming out very soon.
Did I love it? Not sure. It felt too fragmented in places. I may have to pick it up again in a few years – preferably in a car, with $50 on Route 66!
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