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Penguin Moderns: Cyprian Ekwensi and Jack Kerouac

Glittering City by Cyprian Ekwensi *** (#32) 9780241339848
In Cyprian Ekwensi’s short story, ‘untrustworthy, charming Fussy Joe spins tall tales and breaks hearts in this rollicking story set in the “sensational city” of 1960s Lagos.’  First published in 1966, reading Glittering City was my first taste of Ekwensi’s work.  I found that the opening descriptions of person and place helped to set the tone of the whole, rather than paying too much attention to the scene.  I did find that Nigeria was used barely at all as a setting, aside from several short and random descriptions of Lagos.  I know that this is a short story, but I would have enjoyed more content like this within it.

Fussy Joe has depth to him, and comes across largely as an untrustworthy creep.  When the story begins, he takes a young girl, who has arrived alone at the train station, back to his room in another part of Lagos.  It is here that she begins to feel frightened: ‘All of the tales she had heard about the bad men of the city came crawling back.  They were the exciting stories they whispered after lights out in the boarding-house.’

I felt rather uncomfortable whilst reading parts of this story.  Whilst I enjoyed Ekwensi’s prose style, and found the whole well written and nicely paced, there were elements which detracted from my enjoyment.  I did not like Fussy Joe at all, or his constant dishonesty; he tells various people that he is employed in all manner of different jobs, and has several women on the go at once.

Throughout, I could not quite tell in which the direction the story was going, and it did surprise me in a couple of places.  There did feel at times as though there was too much going on in the story, and whilst I enjoyed some elements, others I felt indifferent to, or disliked altogether.   I’m not going to rush to read any of Ekwensi’s other work, but I would be intrigued to try another of his short stories at some point, just to see how it compares.

 

cover-jpg-rendition-460-707Piers of the Homeless Night by Jack Kerouac *** (#33)
I do really enjoy Beat writer Jack Kerouac’s work, and was looking forward to reading these ‘soaring, freewheeling snapshots of life on the road across America.’  Piers of the Homeless Night, which is the thirty-third publication on the Penguin Moderns list, is composed of two journal entries – ‘Piers of the Homeless Night’ and ‘The Vanishing American Hobo’ – which were first published in Lonesome Traveler (1960).

I tend to find that Kerouac has a lot to say about American society, and that is certainly the case here.  The stream-of-consciousness style, with its longer than usual run-on sentences did take me a little while to get into, but it works on the whole.  I admire Kerouac’s writing, largely in that I would find it impossible to emulate.  His prose is fascinating, too.  There is structure here, but elements of both journal entries are a little garbled and confusing.  If this was the first work of Kerouac’s which I had read, I would be largely indifferent to picking up anything else by him.  As it is, I enjoyed On the Road and Maggie Cassidy far more than I did Piers of the Homeless Night.

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One From the Archive: ‘The Haunted Life and Other Writings’ by Jack Kerouac ***

The late Jack Kerouac, most well known for his stream of consciousness novel On the Road, had many previously unpublished fragments to his name, which have been collected together within The Haunted Life and Other Writings. The work within its pages has been separated into three different sections – the first is comprised of ‘The Haunted Life’, a relatively short work, Part Two consists of various sketches and reflections, and the final segment is entitled ‘Jack and Leo Kerouac’.

The selection has been edited by Todd Tietchen, who is also the author of the book’s rather long introduction, ‘Jack Kerouac’s Ghosts’. Tietchen’s introduction is nicely written and rather informative, setting out as it does the start of Kerouac’s friendships with the likes of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, and the more important elements of his life and writing. Tietchen believes that the thing which ‘emerges from these writings is an image of the young Kerouac as a careful and thorough drafter of his ideas, committed to an artistic process that does much to refute the public perception of Kerouac as a spontaneous word-slinger whose authorial approach merely complemented his Dionysian approach to life’.

The title story, ‘The Haunted Life’, is not stylistically similar to the majority of Kerouac’s work; it is built largely of dialogue and conventional prose, and talks mainly about America – her history, her political situation, the many races which she consists of, and the influence of President Roosevelt.

As each section or inclusion here tends to be quite short, the entirety does feel like rather a mismatched collection at times. Often, there are no threads of cohesion which link one entry to the next. Whilst some of the considerations within the title story and the essay fragments are interesting, nothing is quite long enough to render it memorable.

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‘The Haunted Life and Other Writings’ by Jack Kerouac ***

The late Jack Kerouac, most well known for his stream of consciousness novel On the Road, had many previously unpublished fragments to his name, which have been collected together within The Haunted Life and Other Writings. The work within its pages has been separated into three different sections – the first is comprised of ‘The Haunted Life’, a relatively short work, Part Two consists of various sketches and reflections, and the final segment is entitled ‘Jack and Leo Kerouac’.

The selection has been edited by Todd Tietchen, who is also the author of the book’s rather long introduction, ‘Jack Kerouac’s Ghosts’. Tietchen’s introduction is nicely written and rather informative, setting out as it does the start of Kerouac’s friendships with the likes of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, and the more important elements of his life and writing. Tietchen believes that the thing which ‘emerges from these writings is an image of the young Kerouac as a careful and thorough drafter of his ideas, committed to an artistic process that does much to refute the public perception of Kerouac as a spontaneous word-slinger whose authorial approach merely complemented his Dionysian approach to life’.

The title story, ‘The Haunted Life’, is not stylistically similar to the majority of Kerouac’s work; it is built largely of dialogue and conventional prose, and talks mainly about America – her history, her political situation, the many races which she consists of, and the influence of President Roosevelt.

As each section or inclusion here tends to be quite short, the entirety does feel like rather a mismatched collection at times. Often, there are no threads of cohesion which link one entry to the next. Whilst some of the considerations within the title story and the essay fragments are interesting, nothing is quite long enough to render it memorable.

Purchase from The Book Depository