Book Review

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac


I found myself, as I neared the end of this, oddly, unexpectedly, moved. This novel charts Kerouac’s last year or so before becoming the hugely renowned and recognisable writer he was for the last decade or so of his life. He is 34, about to “hit the big time”, and conscious of his friends becoming successful too.

It’s a very egocentric text. Obviously, as thinly veiled autobiography, it is about the self, is intrinsically self-interested. The opening hundred pages or so are Kerouac alone, as a fire warden, at the top of a mountain, Desolation Peak. He is seeking a spiritual awakening, a vision created through solitude, an epiphany rooted solely in the self. His revelation instead, really, turns out to be an acknowledgement of his wish for, his love of, life. So, his tenure up, he leaves the mountain and proceeds to travel south down the West Coast of America, through San Francisco, down into Mexico, back north to New York, across the Atlantic to Tangiers, Paris, London, back to New York, Florida, California again, Florida, Mexico… Movement. I may have misordered/missed out a few places there – there were lots. As he travels there is (of course) the constant stream of reading, writing, drinking, smoking (tobacco, marijuana and even opium on occasion) that characterise his works. Less sex than usual. And most of the sex that does occur is with prostitutes. One of whom is a fourteen year old Mexican.

So, as much as I love Jack recounting typing up Naked Lunch, ducking out one of the most famous poetry readings of all to time to go boozing, travelling, creating, seeing, living, his homosocial world, love of his mother and low opinion/real interest of/in women does add an edge of discomfort to the read.

But, his misogyny and the opening lonely ramblings aside, I really enjoyed it. And would now love to read Big Sur.

Like Jack himself, brilliant, but flawed.

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