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On the Road by Jack Kerouac

“The only people for me are the mad one, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty (the fictional alter egos of author Jack Kerouac and fellow Beat Neal Cassady) roam the North American continent, zooming back and forth between East coast and West, on their search for “IT”: experiences, sex, drugs, ecstasy, love, poetry, speed and jazz. What matters is the journey, not the destination. What matters is that they are always on the move. The two young men and their mad, poetic and intelligent friends, seek self-knowledge and fulfilment.

On the Road is the restlessness and hunger for experience of the Beat generation brought onto the page – although it hardly stays there: the novel seems to be bursting with energy. It is a stream of consciousness about the need for change felt by Kerouac’s generation. By page ten, I was engulfed in this whirlwind of language. Beat is fast. At times, sentences run on and on over half a page or more, adding thoughts, more ideas, as Kerouac appears unable to quiet his mind. Jazz is not only a major theme of the novel, but also represents the style of writing – improvised, curious, new, anti-linear.

Like a little time-capsule this novel contains the hopes, fears and desires of the Beat generation. This, I believe, makes it a great read for many: those nostalgic readers who want to get lost in the atmosphere of the time, and those who want to see how much has changed since then. Yet, while I thoroughly enjoyed the youthfulness and excitement of this novel, I think it is one of those books suffering from too much praise. My expectations going into this were extremely high and not entirely met. Maybe the way in which I read it – in little chunks, spread out over a few days around coursework and deadlines – was not ideal. On the Road feels like a novel to be read on a day or two, with nothing else to do, so that one is free to sink into this world and partake on Sal and Dean’s mad journey.

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