Mark Lawrence's Reviews > On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
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it was ok
Read 2 times. Last read January 26, 2019 to February 13, 2019.

I think this book, which launched Kerouac's career and gave him insta-fame, has to be seen as a product of its time.

I found it a chore to read, a long dull boast about a series of road trips. It's populated by vacuous largely despicable alcoholics with zero impulse control and an unshakeable belief that they are deeply profound observers of the human condition.

One saving grace of the book is that Kerouac has an unusual writing style with a strong voice that he uses well, especially when describing the landscapes and cities as his avatar rushes to and fro across America.

The other is that the 'shocking' nature of the book back in 1955, immersed in drugs, alcohol, and sexuality, five years before a court case finally allowed the rather tame Lady Chatterly's Lover to be published in the UK, 32 years after it was written, has been replaced with a certain historical interest in the modern reader seeing how things worked over 60 years ago.

The book garnered so much interest because it was said to capture zeitgeist of the beat generation - it variously explained and/or titillated with an under the hood look at the youth movement of the late 40s/early 50s that led into rock and roll and on into hippydom. We also see the young white male characters mixing with African Americans and Hispanics decades before the civil rights movement.

Kerouac's avatar, Sal Paradise, follows Dean Moriarty, a hollow messiah of the age, and together they haunt jazz and bop clubs trying to capture "it" and waxing ecstatically about saxophonists blowing.

We see several years of the pair's directionless lives, Dean oscillating between three women, spawning and abandoning children, dropping everything repeatedly on a whim to cross America east to west or back again, and finally to Mexico City.

The pair cheat and steal their way while claiming to savour the goodness of those they encounter. Dean has to be warned off the 13 year old daughter of a friend, and later in Mexico they sleep with 15 year old prostitutes.

In a manner familiar in Dickens and Dostoevsky, and more recently echoed by Rothfuss, our characters are always penniless, generally because if they get money they spend it at a ridiculous rate until they have none.

Dean and Sal are characterised by a refusal to look beyond the next hour. The consequences of their actions are of little concern to them because they feel no responsibility for them.

I realise that I sound like a scolding schoolmarm, the epitome of everything this book was likely a reaction to. But after hundreds of pages of having their reaction forced down my throat I have my own reaction back against it. No, I don't dig it.

And it being a travelogue based on real experience there is of course no plot and as it turns out no real sense of progression, which led to the book feeling rather samey after a while. It was apparently hand written on a roll of wallpaper and it really does feel rather like a long list of "and then and then and then".

I was moved to try Kerouac back in the 80s by a line in a Marillion song, "read some Kerouac and it put me on the track to burn a little brighter now". Yes, this is a book about living at full throttle (and much of it is spent shooting across the States at 110mph), about burning the candle at both ends, about not living a milk toast life, it shouts at you "what are you saving yourself for?" and those ideas of course hold a certain appeal. But then again, when you look at the sad sacks in this book ... maybe not.

The second star is for the quality of the prose. In fact both of them are.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 26, 2011 – Shelved
January 26, 2019 – Started Reading
January 26, 2019 –
page 150
48.86% "I've been reading this for 6 months, in 60 second bursts.

I thought I had read it already, back in the 80s, but that must have been a different Kerouac book. I remember I was motivated by a Marillion lyric: Read some Kerouac, and it put me on the track, to burn a little brighter now.

This is basically the diary of an impoverished road trip. Most of the characters are incoherent, narcissistic alcoholics."
February 3, 2019 –
page 160
52.12% ""I could run 100 metres in 10.5 and Dean sailed past me."

Uh. No. & no."
February 13, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Mary (new)

Mary S. R. Well, amazing review! I always love reading your reviews even if I don't read the book 😂😂 I know, weird...

Michael  Adam Carroll I’m glad not to be alone in this

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

Al Burke I'm the same. Never took to it, just read because it's a "classic."

Christoffer Ladstein I read this when I was +-20 and I suppose that 's a perfect age to digest this and book.

Brad Kirk Marillion, hell yeah.

Anghell I loved this book.. and I typically don't fall for things touted as 'classics.' lol. But it was fantastic..

Thomas Olivent It was interesting. I think this one had hipsters mentioned in it? I found that hilarious as I didn't realize the term was an old one.

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