John Stokes

Dead Beats

Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac

By

Penguin Books 767pp £5.95 order from our bookshop

The Beats: An Anthology of 'Beat' Writing

By

Dent 250pp £4.95 order from our bookshop

‘Over-writing had become an American tradition’ says Gerald Nicosia as he opens his discussion of Kerouac’s early book , The Town and the City. Moments of caution and concision are infrequent in a critic who mainly demonstrates that overestimation is an American tradition too. Elsewhere Nicosia thinks that Kerouac’s sequence Blues is ‘one of the most important poetic works in the second half of the twentieth century’, a judgement so over-the-top that it almost compares with Kerouac’s own lunatic view that On the Road was ‘the first modern novel’. Memory Babe, which sprawls over 700 pages, is the latest ‘definitive’ account of a life of such colossal over-indulgence that it wilts the soul simply to read about it, an all-American epic in which the hero gradually turns from an unusually well-read football jock into a middle-aged alcoholic who couldn’t hit the toilet bowl (the incapacity is unfortunately well-documented), let alone the right phrase.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • From the Archive: Martyn Bedford on Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' ,
    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,