Described as ‘the novel that defined the Beat generation’, On The Road chronicles the story through the eyes of Sal Paradise as he meanders through 1950s America. The novel is split into various parts, each following Sal as he travels across America with some of his closest friends, including the feckless flight-risk, Dean Moriarty.
Based on Kerouac’s own life with his friends (and founders fathers of the Beat Generation) On The Road is a story of love, friendship and ultimately freedom of the open road. Though its centered on Sal and his comrades, the real protagonist of the tale is the America itself in all it’s tragic beauty.
So what’s my verdict?
I really, really, really wanted to like this. On The Road is probably one of the most hyped up books in American literature – and definitely one of the most quoted – and I think it’s this hype that really made the book disappointing to me.
The novel started off well, Sal as a character (even though he’s based on Kerouac) felt like Nick from The Great Gatsby in his storytelling, his descriptions of the places he visits in vivid, as are the emotions he feels throughout the journey. But as the book progressed I found myself getting more and more irritated by how pretentious and insincere some of the characters were, particularly Dean Moriarty, who seems to fling himself from coast to coast, marriage to marriage, with little consequence.
Maybe that’s how I’m supposed to feel about them, but in the end I felt little sympathy when these characters did break down – I hate to say to say it but sometimes they really deserved what they got.
The whole novel in itself felt like a road trip. But as with any journey, yes, there are the incredible life-affirming moments where nothing else matters but the beauty of the open road. But there are also moments when you're sat in the back of car watching the miles clock up on the dashboard waiting for the next exciting thing to happen.
On The Road isn't a bad book, but the balance of eye-opening narrative to the tedious listing of events was just off for me. It’s a shame, because when Kerouac does get the writing right, it’s wonderful and his use of language can be breathtaking.
This may not be one for everyone, but I think I'd be willing to give this another go, perhaps at a slower pace to really enjoy the language of the novel rather than the plot and its characters.
Fire & Rain: James Taylor; Blue Jeans: Lana Del Rey; Keep The Car Running: Arcade Fire; Sad, Beautiful, Tragic: Taylor Swift; Here Comes The Sun: The Beatles; Towers: Bon Iver; Come Away With Me: Norah Jones; Sweet Disposition: The Temper Trap;
For lovers of…Allen Ginsberg, Into The Wild (2007) & Paper Towns by John Green.
This post was written by regular reviewer Ria, get to know her here.
*Photo (c) Ria Cagampang