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Big Sur: Modern Classic (Flamingo modern classics) [Paperback]

Jack Kerouac
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Dec 2001 Flamingo modern classics

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.

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Big Sur: Modern Classic (Flamingo modern classics) + The Dharma Bums (Penguin Modern Classics) + Lonesome Traveler (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New edition edition (3 Dec 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0586091572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0586091579
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.6 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 990,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, where, he said, he 'roamed fields and riverbanks by day and night, wrote little novels in my room, first novel written at age eleven, also kept extensive diaries and "newspapers" covering my own-invented horse-racing and baseball and football worlds' (as recorded in the novel Doctor Sax). He was educated by Jesuit brothers in Lowell. He said that he 'decided to become a writer at age seventeen under influence of Sebastian Sampas, local young poet, who later died on Anzio beach head; read the life of Jack London at eighteen and decided to also be a lonesome traveler; early literary influences Saroyan and Hemingway; later Wolfe (after I had broken leg in Freshman football at Columbia read Tom Wolfe and roamed his New York on crutches).'

Kerouac wished, however, to develop his own new prose style, which he called 'spontaneous prose.' He used this technique to record the life of the American 'traveler' and the experiences of the Beat generation of the 1950s. This may clearly be seen in his most famous novel On the Road, and also in The Subterraneans and The Dharma Bums. His first more orthodox published novel was The Town and the City. Jack Kerouac, who described himself as a 'strange solitary crazy Catholic mystic,' was working on his longest novel, a surrealistic study of the last ten years of his life when he died in 1969, aged forty-seven.

Other works by Jack Kerouac include Big Sur, Desolation Angels, Lonesome Traveler, Visions of Gerard, Tristessa, and a book of poetry called Mexico City Blues. On the Road: The Original Scroll, the full uncensored transcription of the original manuscript of On the Road, is published by Penguin Modern Classics.

Product Description


‘Big Sur has a swing and a concern with living, a feeling for nature, a self-doubting humour and an awareness of posture which puts it squarely in the powerful tradition of American folk writing. Stunning and vivid.’ Sunday Times

From the Back Cover

'It's the first trip I've taken away from the home since the publication of On the Road, the book that "made me famous" and in fact so much so I've been driven mad for three years by endless telegrams, phone calls, requests, mail, visitors, reporters, snoopers… Me drunk practically all the time to put on a jovial cap to keep up with all this but finally realising I was surrounded and outnumbered and had to get away to solitude again or die…'

Written as the 'King of the Beats' was approaching middle-age, Big Sur reflects his struggle to come to terms with his own myth. The magnificent and moving novel of 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.

'In Big Sur, the mirror of the Beat way of life is hammered at and it shatters. The Kerouac hero 'cracks up' under the ministrations of his best friends, loved by his most devoted mistress, and while doing the things he has always liked best to do. It is a bitter iron and the force of it produces what is certainly Kerouac's grittiest novel.'

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac at the edge 22 Feb 2009
By Griffo
Big Sur is one of my favourite Kerouac books, mainly because in parts its tone is so haunting. As Kerouac descended further into alcoholism and his will for self-negation increased, he wanted to get away from his mother, friends and the circus of fame to write in solitude, as he had tried to do (with varying degrees of success) before. So the poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Lorenzo Monsanto in the book) lent him his isolated cabin at Bixby Canyon on Big Sur for several weeks.

This is the premise of the book, which develops as an autoboigraphical account of his time there, with Kerouac alternately loving the solitude and desperate to escape his own company. He comes across as a man incapable of self-possession, both hating society and yet craving it. Despite his new-found (and hated) 'King of the Beats' tag, and his recent literary success, in Big Sur Kerouac seems to know that he is coming to the end of something, and there's an air of melancholy and desperation about his experience. At one point, he sits hitching on highway one, waiting forlornly for a lift back to San Francisco and civilisation. But he's out of touch with the road, and all that goes past him are tourists and family sedans wary of the ragged traveller and we realise how divorced he now is from the freewheeling young hitchiker of 'On the Road', and all things seem out of reach, even hope.

Kerouac fictionalises his San Francisco circle of friends, but the biggest characters are the Pacific Ocean and Big Sur itself. This is where the book is really so haunting - with the huge cliffs and roaring sea, Kerouac is literally at the edge of both the world and himself, and he's terrified of it all.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac's best book? 7 July 2000
By A Customer
I enjoyed "Big Sur" more than any of the other Kerouac books I have read. All his books were suposedly "fiction" but, as anyone who has studied the man will know, they are largely among the most honest, open, autobiographical writings that have been published anywhere! Big Sur is no exception. It charts the painful breakdown (largely due to his alcoholism) of this very complex man. The other characters in the book are present but I found they took on an almost dreamlike quality. Kerouac has the ability to communicate and involve us so that we are truly experiencing the nightmare with him. To me it has to be the most painful, honest and enlightening account of descent into mental illness that has ever been recorded. By all accounts Kerouac,in life, was a complex,difficult and often unpleasant man but those who have read him know otherwise! He communicated best through his writing, which he was passionate about, and through this we have a greater insight into the flawed, but beautiful, person that he was.(spoken from the heart!)
By the way, if you want to read a moving and stunningly beautiful episode of a fleeting Kerouac romance try "The Subterraneans".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BIG SUR 13 Mar 2004
By A Customer
By the time of writing "Big Sur" Keoruac had developed this style of spontaneous writing and had a certain confidence in his work that payed remarkable dividends. His discriptions of the coastal retreat "Big Sur" are lively and poetic. For example "But there's moonlight fognight, the blossoms of the fire flames in the stove - There's giving an apple to the mule, the big lips taking hold" Many sections of this text are poetic, and indeed there is a poem entitled "Sea" at the back of this edition. Early on in the novel Kerouac understands from a letter from his mother that his beloved family cat has just passed away, he explains his grief in such a way that you actually feel pity for him and excuse him for getting nasty drunk to the cat's memory.
Big Sur is a very personal novel, a cry from a man on the edge of a alcohol induced nervous breakdown. It is somwhat sad in parts, altough there are many more jolly and even funny moments penned by Jack probably in less sober conditions. This book is all about getting behind the myth and understanding the real Jack Kerouac. As such, this novel will give a better insight into Kerouacs life than any biography, or even perhaps any other Kerouac novel.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Like most of Kerouac's other works, this is autobiographical. Kerouac writes of his attempts to get away from the pressures of fame by hiding out in a friend's cabin, out in the wilderness of Big Sur. Unfortunately he finds himself still sinking into old habits and cracking up.
This is, in all honesty something of a difficult book in places - Kerouac's prose is somewhat unorthodox and may require some getting used to, yet this book is so vivid in some places that it is well worth the effort. It's like nothing I've ever read before. Although it's not a happy book, there are parts of it that are oddly sweet and touching.
I'd recommend reading On The Road first to put this all in some kind of context.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Escaping from the Beat 31 July 2006
By Lisa
This is a book written by Kerouac several years after On the Road had made him famous. Fame did not sit easily with him and most of this book is his attempt to escape from fame and the notoriety it brings. I found this a sad book after OTR because although Kerouac exhibited a certain amount of youthfull insanity in the story of his crazy trips across America, in Big Sur the realisation has hit him that he may actually be insane. This is a very troubled book, but none the worse for that, just sad when you know that Kerouac died a few short years later, in his early forties, from the results of his drug and alcohol fuelled life.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars classic
classic jack
Published 15 hours ago by S. A. Crook
4.0 out of 5 stars A great piece of writing which gives some insight into how ...
A great piece of writing which gives some insight into how Kerouac lost his focus and died at such a young age.
Published 2 months ago by MaryL
5.0 out of 5 stars With Kerouac and friends in California
Vintage Kerouac
His adventures never fail to interest, amuse and sometimes sadden.
Reading Kerouac, you are there with him ! Read more
Published 12 months ago by Patrick
5.0 out of 5 stars One of his best
A story filled with an array of characters from the beat period. Helps if you've been to California and have driven past Big Sur, taken in the air, smelt the forests and sea... Read more
Published on 14 Oct 2012 by Alun Davies
5.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac has mid-life crisis on wine.
Jack takes three trips to a cabin in Big Sur in an attempt to de-stress but ends up having a psychotic episode due to the amount of wine he is drinking and the company he is... Read more
Published on 2 Aug 2011 by nicholas hargreaves
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable
Beat literature seems very popular again right now, and this book is one of Kerouac's most readable. Read more
Published on 24 Dec 2006 by sunsoul
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful
This is the first of Kerouac's books I have read. Somewhat of a strange beginning being that it was towards the end of his life. Read more
Published on 21 Nov 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly what I wanted!
This is the first Jack Kerouac I have read, and will most certainly not be the last!
I feasted on his writing with such relish and satisfaction. Read more
Published on 10 April 2001
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