Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Over Rated Classics - On The Road by Jack Kerouac

The BBC recently ran a series on forgotten classics - books that had been well thought of in their day but had faded from view over the years.

But what about over rated classics? How many books regarded as classics are really not very good and owe their popularity to some kind of special pleading by interested groups. I was forced to recognise this when finally getting round to reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac. The truth is quite a tedious book and not at all what I expected.

I had always been led to believe that here was a letter from the other side: an untutored but naturally talented voice from a way of life way outside the conventional life that you and I lead.

It turns out that the Kerouac figure is actually quite conventional. The "story" is little more than "what we did on our holidays". Kerouac lives with his aunt and receives some kind of GI pension which he saves up so he can go to California from the East Coast.

To be authentic he really should have been a bum (albeit a clever bum) riding the railroad with no means of support and no home totally free from the rules and conventions that trammel us everyday folk.

But no! He sets out to hitchhike but fails miserably so he walks back into the city and gets a bus. This takes a lot of his money so he wires home to his aunt to send him some more. Sounds a lot like my university days...which were not very exciting.

And talking of university, the only real action is him hanging out with Dean Moriarty who basically gets drunk, smokes dope, screws women and flees when they get pregnant. Sounds a lot like Dirty Pete at Leeds University. And, frankly, you could get enough of Dirty Pete.

The only thing I like about him is the way he mixes with black people at a time in America when that was not the norm and, in particular, the way he recognises black beauty when that was pretty far from the norm too. Although I notice he never actually has a relationship with a black girl! Sorry...slipping into current PC speak there...never has sex with a black girl.

Which other classics do we think are over rated? Please leave a comment below but don't bother with Virginia Woolf. We all know about her.


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