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24 of 25 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac at the edge, 22 Feb 2009
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. On arriving, Big Sur frightens the hell out of him, and at one point he tries to listen to what the Pacific Ocean is saying, writing it down, as if it is the only way he can understand the enormity of it. For me, this particular aspect was so powerful that whenever I hear about, or see pictures of, Big Sur, my mind goes back to this lonely book.

Big Sur is not flawless by any means - it jumps and digresses like most Kerouac stuff, and varies wildly in intensity. But I would not discourage you from reading it even if you are new to Kerouac - Big Sur was the first Keoruac book I read, and it still says more to me than a lot of his earlier work. To a large degree, Kerouac withdrew from the world after this book. He wrote 'Satori in Paris' before he died, but I still regard Big Sur as the swansong of a troubled genius.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of Kerouac's descent into madness and alcoholism, 5 Aug 2001
This review is from: Big Sur (Paperback)
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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5 of 5 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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Escaping from the Beat, 31 July 2006
By 
Lisa (Essex England) - See all my reviews
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of his best, 14 Oct 2012
By 
Alun Davies (Cardiff, Wales) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Big Sur (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Edition)
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 breeze, but a very interesting account into the everyday lives of the gang that hung out with Jack et al nonetheless. A journey back to the solitude of the woods in order to get away from the pressures of fame and recoonect with nature.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack burning but not burnt, 12 April 2000
By A Customer
This book is one of my favorites because although all of his books were about him and his travel etc, this is the the first book where I feel he is actually talking to you. This book is a count down to an inevitable death where all you can do is read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ignore the cover and read this book!, 29 April 1999
By A Customer
This book is a way for Kerouac to try and come to terms with the new life that he found himself leading after the phenomenal success of "on the Road". The novel deals with his need to be alone, in a cabin in "Big Sur", so he can come to terms with his own life, and face the darker side of his personality. This is an excellent book, and I recommend it to anybody who wants to know more about Kerouac.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly what I wanted!, 10 April 2001
By A Customer
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. Jack was truly a master of his times. His writing is down to earth and his intelligence subtle but most definitely there. I felt privileged at being allowed the indulgence of his mind and thoughts and raw honesty that must be hard to pen, but yet he achieved so perfectly.
The story is not a major epic of wondrous fantasy. It is real life, quotidian activities that should not be anymore exciting than ones own life. But, you are reading about the King of Beatniks, the one and the only - the walking cranium hanging out with his friends, self destructing on booze, having literary discussions that sound so that much more right.
Brilliant.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the Kerouac neophyte, 17 Mar 2000
By A Customer
This isn't for the faint of heart hippy wannabe Kerouac fan; to me it was a chronicle of his descent into madness, and, as vivid an author as he is, you definately go with him. Unfortunately, he gets himself out of that spiral, but I didn't feel that he helped the reader get out of it as well! It might take a bit to recover from it; read something like Dharma Bums, or better yet, Bored of the Rings immediately afterward! Great book.
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