Monday, 19 January 2015

On the Road

On the Road
Jack Kerouac
London, Vintage

Oh the irony of this being the first book I am reading in my new life. This was meant to be the last book I read in my Staff Book Club, but due to life being mad over the holidays, I finished it a little later than usual.

In the late forties, Sal Paradise (what a name!) sets off from his aunt's home in New York on a series of national adventures. Dean Moriarty is the cause of each - an eccentric, energetic young man who inspires Sal to cross America to Denver, San Francisco and finally into Mexico. Their trips are fuelled with drugs, drink, and sex, and are enabled by hitch-hiking and borrowed cars. 

Along the way, the men tell share everything with each other, from childhood memories to lose change to women. The novel explores masculinity in a time and place where the future seemed uncertain and the past haunted your every step. Young men were better educated than past generations; the threat of nuclear war hung over their heads, but they were not sent to Europe to fight on the front lines like their fathers. Equally, the American dream thrived in post-war success; and Sal and his friends push the boundaries of this ideal to the very limit. 

On the Road is written in Kerouac's well-known stream of consciousness style (not that I would actually know, having never read his work before). Great paragraphs flow through the pages, describing scenes of marijuana-filled ecstasy or beer-crazed jazz clubs. 

I didn't particularly like the characters in this book - the men were all selfish and the women were uninspiring - but I loved the way the story was told. Each part contained a new trip, with new faces and new towns. And each journey felt like a struggle - a battle with long, dull roads, against broken down cars and jobsworthy policemen, with limited money and no end goal. 

But every time they returned to their normal lives, they found themselves bored of the mundane nature of the every day; so unable to stay still for long, Sal and Dean would set off again for another journey. 

All it makes me want to do is book some flights. Somewhere. Anywhere. 

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