At the moment I am reading – savouring – Jack Kerouac and his ‘lost novel’. It begins with what was Kerouac’s first novel, long before On The Road, inspired by his experiences as a sailor in the Merchant Marine. The 158-page handwritten manuscript was somehow ‘lost’, and never finished, but is now published in all its rich, mad, brilliance:
“Into this book, The Sea is My Brother, I shall weave all the passion and glory of living, its restlessness and peace, its fever and ennui, its mornings, noons and nights of desire, frustration, fear, triumph, and death…”
It continues with other, much shorter unfinished stories, brimming with life and ideas, plus letters and diaries that are so immediate and personal and show his development as a man, an individual, and a writer.
He writes his letters as a stream of consciousness; immediate and personal, gambolling with the vibrancy of his thoughts, his enthusiasm and passion for life.
The proximity afforded by writing in the first-person seems heightened when reading a personal diary or journal, and I felt like a confidant while reading Jack’s ‘Journal of an Egotist’, close enough almost to hear his voice speaking the words to me. I have tried to imagine living in his time (a time without the internet and social media) where letters were the only way to communicate the rich and complex web of ideas and sparks of genius that Jack shared with his close friends, particularly Sebastian Sampas.
An extract from the ‘Journal’:
December 9, 1940
Do you mind if I let my heart out, splattering all its delicate essences over these following pages? Well, you’d better not, because that’s what I’m going to do. That is the purpose of the ‘Journal of an Egotist’. If you don’t believe, if you are a misbeliever in the conformity of my title with my work, then just shut up and read. It’s coming.
A letter to Jack from Sebastian:
To Jack Kerouac
From Sebastian Sampas
I shall not put the date because an erratic person never counts time
(Do you understand?)
Mon Chér Baron!
It is Sunday about seven o’clock and I am sitting at my desk and writing to Jack Kerouac. Is that name off? If so, so is the person.
As I’m reading through the journal and early writings, absorbing every word, every sentence, I’m imagining too, Jack as Sal Paradise in On the Road, and thinking about the ‘beat generation’ and the beat style, the rhythm of life when the non-essentials are stripped away; raw and free.
And it at once inspires me and saddens me because I wish I was as brave as he was and I wish I’d found his novels earlier so I could share that same passion a decade or so sooner.
‘The Lost Novel’ was a gift from my Mother, and I didn’t start reading it straight away. In fact, I have had it some time. I very much believe in the Doris Lessing view on books and reading:
“Don’t read a book out of its right time for you”
I found it compelling and absorbing, sturdy and descriptive, unsatisfying in one sense (when the principal story The Sea is my Brother abruptly ends), but so generous in its depth of experience and ‘supreme reality’ as Jack called it .
I guess that’s a bit like the sea.