Thursday, November 15, 2012

On The Road

Following on from my completion of The Fountainhead, the next mid 20th century book I tackled was On The Road by Jack Kerouac which I finished a few weeks ago.
The first thing that struck me about this book, smack in the head, was the style of its prose. It's fast, frantic - unlike anything else I've ever read before. I'm used to writers varying their tempo - a steady opening third with moments of tension and pace that build toward a turn in the plot before the words steam ahead, split and then converge together in a satisfying end.
Apparently Kerouac sat at his typewriter after connecting large sheets of paper together and began to type - stopping only to sleep and briefly consider the basics of nutrition. After three torrid weeks, the draft was done. And hence why the book reads the way it does - it's one, sustained paragraph of consciousness, expressed without breath, seemingly for fear of the creative tap drying out.

This book is like punk for rocknrollers. It expresses the energy of the writer, the characters and the time in which it was written. It unashamedly approaches all aspects of society at a time when a lot were under a strict veil. It expresses a unique sense of freedom that largely doesn't exist in the Western world any more but also challenges the reader as to whether this dreamed freedom-without-consequence is truly desirable.

Another thing that struck me throughout the book was how evident it is that Van Morrison must adore it. There are so many lyrics and themes from this book that arise in songs by "The Man" and even when you look at what Van Morrison stands for musically, this book could come close to matching it in a literary sense. It's about great stories - adventures, dramas and tragedies. It's about freedom, heritage, youth and age. Even that sense of sitting down and typing a stream of consciousness could, in my mind, be compared to the way Astral Weeks is often expressed. All this made me love this book even more.

Again, I took some clippings of my favourite quotes within the book to share with you, so enjoy - or just ignore these and read it for yourself!

"Central City is two miles high; at first you get drunk on the altitude, then you get tired, and there's a fever in your soul."

"I looked everywhere for the sad and fabled tinsmith of my mind."

"He's filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his bellybottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows it's not the tune that counts but IT..."

"At night in this part of the West the stars, as I had seen them in Wyoming, are big as roman candles and as lonely as the Prince of the Dharma who's lost his ancestral grove and journeys across the spaces between points in the handle of the Big Dipper, trying to find it again."

"...he wears his thick-soled shoes so that he can't feel the sidewalks of life."

"I realised that these were all the snapshots which our children would look at one someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilised-within-the-photo lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road. All of it inside endless and beginningless emptiness. Pitiful forms of ignorance."

"'Yow!' yelled Dean. 'And all in that sun. Have you dug this Mexican sun, Sal? It makes you high. Whoo!'"

"For a mad moment I thought Dean was understanding everything he said by sheer wild insight and sudden revelatory genius inconceivably inspired by his glowing happiness. In that moment, too, he looked so exactly like Franklin Delano Roosevelt - some delusion in my flaming eyes and floating brain."

"We agreed to love each other madly." 

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