Tom O’Connell's Reviews > Desolation Angels

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac
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Oct 11, 2010

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Read from October 11, 2010 to September 19, 2011 — I own a copy

*Three and a half, where possible.

I read 'On The Road', 'Dharma Bums', 'The Sub[par]teraneans' and 'Big Sur' in my late teen years, and don't quite know how or why 'Desolations Angels' eluded me for so long. It's definitely compulsory reading for anyone who, like me, has invested this much time in Kerouac's journey.

I usually lap up Kerouac's style but here I found things needlessly excessive, and really had to plough through some sections on sheer determination. I'm not sure if the problem is that I've outgrown all this beatific hoo-hah, or that 'Desolation Angels' *specifically* doesn't soar with the same exuberance as his previous work. It's hard to say, really. It's certainly a more sombre, introspective novel – one that deals in great length with Kerouac's waning belief in organised religion (here he's all about the hopelessness of the 'Void'; an ideology I couldn't really identify with).

'Desolation Angels' opens with some very esoteric journal scribbles about Jack's isolated period as the lookout of Desolation Peak. If 'Big Sur' showcased Kerouac's mental deterioration, then 'Desolation Angels' provides the first seeds of unease. Jack's weary contempt for life is all too apparent. He teeters in and out of his depression, coveting enlightenment above all things (even his own sanity).

To be honest, this melancholic tone (and this MUCH of it) was hard to stomach. Sure, there were glimpses of the Kerouac we know and love (his exuberant San Francisco reunion with the gang is certainly tonnes of fun), but is subsidiary to his hopeless longing (equating his mother to sainthood is endearing, but more a desperate grasp for life's significance). I mean, it's not the sort of complaint one can fairly level at a work of nonfiction, but it was markedly 'less fun' to read about than, say, the balls-out fun of 'On The Road' or the beautifully captured mountain climb in 'Dharma Bums'.

I guess them's the breaks, but I'll always have a soft spot for Kerouac. He's an integral part of my youth, and an important initiation for me and literature.

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Reading Progress

08/25/2011 page 130
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by TC (new)

TC Jones wow. really good review. I've not yet read Desolation Angels or Big Sur. Which should I read first?

message 2: by Tom (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tom O’Connell Chronologically Desolation Angels but I much preferred Big Sur (may have something to do with its brevity?).

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