Buy this book at
To Past Reviews Index
Back to Last Page

Big Sur

Jack Kerouac

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : HarperPerennial

Published : 2006

Copyright : Jack Kerouac 1962

ISBN-10 : PB 0-00-720498-1
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-00-720498-4

Publisher's Write-Up

Kerouac's gritty, moving take on the destruction of his own myth, as the 'King of the Beats' approaches middle age! Unmistakably autobiographical, Big Sur, Kerouac's ninth novel, was written as the 'King of the Beats' was approaching middle-age and reflects his struggle to come to terms with his own myth. The magnificent and moving story of Jack Duluoz, a man blessed by great talent and cursed with an urge towards self-destruction, Big Sur is at once Kerouac's toughest and his most humane work.

Column Ends


Reader Reviews

Why not Submit a Review your own Review for this book?

Review by Michael Savage (080309) Rating (8/10)

Review by Michael Savage
Rating 8/10
Literary Genius. Over-hyped fashion icon. Incoherent, incomprehensible, alcoholic counter-culture charlatan. Whatever your opinion of 'King of the Beats', Jack Kerouac, it is inarguable that his most renowned novel, the semi-autobiographical On The Road, had a great impact on the literary, and indeed, the wider world, but also on the man himself. Unable to cope with the fame his masterpiece brought him and the pressure which came with it, Kerouac needed to escape from the beat craze which had begun to spread across America, one which he had sought to create with his aforementioned work.

Desperate to evade all the 'posers' like Big Sur's Ron Blake that he felt were now jumping on the Beat bandwagon and smothering him in phone calls, mail and telegrams, Kerouac sought solitude in Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin in the untamed wilderness that is Big Sur, California. Here, he struggled against his inner demons and an ever growing dependence on alcohol, a fight he eventually lost, resulting in his death in 1969.

Kerouac's account of events of this period is recorded in his novel, Big Sur. By the time of his death in 1969, Kerouac felt so dissatisfied with his own creation that he had all but disassociated himself from the Beat movement, "I am not a Beatnik, I am a Catholic", he declared shortly before his death. This growing dislike can easily be seen in some of the character's relationships in Big Sur. Duluoz's (Kerouac's alter-ego) distance from Neal Cassidy's character, Cody Pomeroy (immortalised as the rainbow child, Dean Moriarty in On The Road) is symbolic of Kerouac's discontent.

In On The Road, Moriarty was presented by Kerouac as his leading light, as the very epitome of the energy and carefree adventure of Beat, holding him in almost godlike status. In Big Sur, the disgruntled Kerouac can be seen to have distanced himself from his 'star' as it has become 'dummier and dimmer and getting blurreder', and the lack of feeling he shows toward Cody when he says "...and that's the last time I see Cody or Evelyn anyway...", the throwaway nature of such a statement is characteristic of his new feelings toward the Beat movement. Added to this, where Kerouac's spontaneous, unstoppable prose of On The Road seemed to be jumping off the page with excitement at the promise of his drug and alcohol fuelled escapade, the prose of Big Sur seems for the most part to be in direct contrast to this. It's jumpy, schizophrenic nature is almost a mirror to the Delirium Tremens that Kerouac was, or seemed to be, afflicted by during his internment at Big Sur, only occasionally recapturing the exhilaration of his other work. This furthers the image that Kerouac was almost a completely different man to the one who had enthusiastically set out to create a 'beatific' new gang of worldpeople' just a few years before.

Whether this was indeed because of his unhappiness at how his Beat vision was turning into a mainstream commercial phenomenon or because of his ever-increasing addiction to a path lined with 'double bourbons, Manhattans and scotch' remains to be seen. Kerouac's troubles were there for all to see. Upon Big Sur's release famed Beat writer, poet and friend of Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg called it a 'heroic reconstruction of madness such as few dying men have ever reconstructed'. It is indeed remarkable that Kerouac completed the process of transforming his mental and physical breakdown into a work of fiction, however the 'King's' problems with alcohol had began to interfere with his writing, so much so that, prior to Big Sur, Kerouac had only completed one other novel in the previous three years, Desolation Angels, a problem Kerouac attributed to the fact that he 'hadn't had any Benzedrine for two years'.

Perhaps the second most important character in Big Sur, is the terrain itself. As Duluoz is battling his demons, he struggles to come to terms with what he calls 'the bleak awful isolateness' of Big Sur itself. This is the very thing he convinced himself he needed the most; solitude, this again shows a man at the centre of a war between his head, his heart and a bottle of bourbon. A pivotal scene near the end of the book shows the sinister power Kerouac felt Big Sur holds. Instead of healing and helping him overcome his problems, it can be said that his stay at Big Sur has only increased them as he wails "Dawn is most horrible of all...the bright sun only GLARING in on my pain...", this displays Kerouac's often-pointed-to failings as a human, as he is no longer able to appreciate the unbroken beauty of Big Sur, maybe his falling out with his surroundings can be attributed to the fact that it appears that throughout the novel Kerouac appears to be in a constant state of drunken insanity, making him exaggerate the 'horror' and negativity he felt to be captured in the sparse landscape.

Kerouac said that he saw Big Sur as the nearest thing to 'perfection'. Some may argue that On the Road is Kerouac's outstanding work, they may be right, but Big Sur serves a different purpose. Where On the Road was created to inspire, Big Sur can be seen as Kerouac's warning against the price of fame and the bohemian lifestyle he came to despise.
Michael Savage (8th March 2009)

Back to Top of Page
Column Ends