Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1950
Number of pages: 499
ISBN: 0141182237

Started: 19 October 2007
Finished: 14 November 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):

The town is Galloway in Massachusetts, birthplace of the five sons and three daughters of the Martin family in the early 1900s. The city is New York, the vast and heaving melting pot which lures them all in search of futures and identity.

Nearly a decade before the publication of On The Road, the story of the Martins' epic transformation in The Town and the City marked the first true literary impact of the founding father of the Beat Generation. Inspired by grief over his father's death, and his own determination to write the Great American Novel, The Town and the City is an essential prelude to Jack Kerouac's later classics.

I thoroughly enjoyed this epic story of the Martin's lives over the decades. I don't think I've ever read a book that has so inspired in me the will to jump on the next plane to America so I can have these experiences myself. It truly is the Great American Novel. The descriptions of characters and places are vividly portrayed and the story has all you could hope for in a great novel: it's moving, irritating, amusing, heart-breaking.

I had a little trouble identifying with any of the characters. Kerouac spends a large part of the beginning of the novel describing all of the characters in detail - so much detail that the personality traits he describes in his characters start becoming contradictory. And despite there being three daughters and a mother in the story, comparatively little time was spent discussing them and their lives compared to the father and sons. This irked me a little ('typical 1950s sexism', I thought), until I realised that this is largely an autobiographical account of Kerouac's early life. Kerouac has, in effect, split his own self into three of the sons: Peter, Jim and Francis. Maybe this is why I had trouble identifying with them.

This was Kerouac's first novel, and as such is written in a much more conventional manner than his later works. However, you can start to see his own unique style coming out in this book. It's very interesting to see. Very highly recommended.

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