Next up: Dharma Bums


As part of my latest project, to revisit novels I remember as being significant to me in my ’20s, I’m about to start Dharma Bums. I think I first read this as a teenager, which is when I guess you should read it, so it will be fascinating to see if there are any ghosts in its pages 40 years later.

I just finished wading through Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, which I used to keep close to me in the early London days in the 1980s, thinking it contained triggers of lucidity which would shine a comprehending light on the chaos of my life. Reading it now has been a bit of a chore. I can imagine the excitement when it first came out in 1938 but, good grief, it’s laboured going now. That’s because it’s not really a novel at all, it’s Sartre’s thinking couched in novelistic terms. Because he was such a clever bastard, to use Ian Dury’s excellent phrase, he was easily capable of creating a novelistic structure and even a stab at character, but the whole thing is constipated by his brilliance. The final payoff, which I’d forgotten, where the narrator sees the potential for redemption from his existential nausea in the idea of writing a novel, actually made me groan.

After Kerouac is Dostoevsky and The Brothers Karamazov. I’m slightly nervous that I will like that so much on re-reading it that it will spoil everything else for me, but we’ll see.

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