Book of the Film: On The Road


Kerouac’s classic beat novel, based autobiographically on his own travels across America is completely riotous and completely spellbinding says Jessica Lane.

On the Road follows the lives of a group of friends as they navigate drink, drugs, sex and jazz in a desperate search to find meaning in life. With the release of the novel’s first ever film adaptation, directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and starring Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart, now is the perfect time to take a look at the original 1957 novel that inspired a generation.

Kerouac’s descriptions; endless stretches of dusty roads; intense heat and dense clouds of insects hitting the windscreen through the Texan plains, creates a vivid image of 50s America and celebrates perfectly the Beat ideals of spontaneity and hedonism.

Lost-soul Dean Moriarty, compelling and magnetic, forms the centre of the storyline. Troubled and mysterious he propels the plot with his wanderlust and contagious thirst for adventure; caught brilliantly in Kerouac’s winding, sprawling prose. Dean, Sal and Marylou travel the length and breadth of the country constantly moving ‘to the next crazy venture beneath the skies’.

Though at times difficult to follow, with its restless plot and endless sea of characters, On the Road’s sense of disorientation serves only to enhance the restless pursuit of freedom that consumes its characters. And, whilst the fast-paced rhythm of Kerouac’s writing might slightly lose momentum towards the end of it’s journey, it is his creation of unforgettable characters that makes this novel so powerful. It’s enticing originality sparked a fresh direction for American writing after the Second World War, and after all, it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters.


On the Road is available now from Penguin Classics.

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