Magazine article The Spectator

A Literary Curio

Magazine article The Spectator

A Literary Curio

Article excerpt

The Sea is My Brother

by Jack Kerouac

Penguin, £25, pp. 426,

ISBN 978014193335

Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, better known as Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the son of French-Canadians spiced with the blood of Mohawk and Caughnawaga Indians and subdued, no doubt, by migration from Quebec to Lowell, an old mill town in Massachusetts, eventually fulfilled his adolescent ambition to live the life of the eccentric 'artist' . . . a high form of aesthete who has nothing to do with this maddening world of Philistines.

He hoped that 'lingual spontaneity' would enable him to achieve 'Supreme Reality'.

In fact, On the Road (1957) did indeed serve as a guide to all America for the Beat Generation of the Fifties and after. His closest boyhood friends, who called themselves the Prometheans, aspired to bestow the fire of hip enlightenment on the whole 'brotherhood of mankind'. Kerouac went beyond his Jesuit high-school education and a brief stay at Columbia university on a football scholarship to explore the free-wheeling spirituality of his own version of Buddhism.

He was 21 when he wrote The Sea is My Brother, his short first novel, said to have been lost until now. It would probably never have been published but for the phenomenal influence of later works. It was based on a journal he called Voyage to Greenland, which he kept on his only voyage as a merchant marine, in 1942. The following year he joined the US Navy but was soon discharged, not dishonourably, as a 'schizoid personality'.

The novel established the pattern of all his later fiction: it was non-fiction. Writing fast, enthusiastically and sloppily, he made no apparent attempt to disguise autobiography. …

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