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  1. I decided to place "And the hippos were boiled in their tanks" by William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac in the 20th century fiction rather than the 21st because it was written in 1945, although it wasn't published until 2008. There are 2 main reasons why it wasn't published for 63 years. The first was out of respect for one of the fictionalized characters, who went on to lead a drastically different life than the one portrayed in this novel. The other reason is that it is just not very good. This book tells the heavily fictionalized story of Lucien Carr's murder of David Kammerer, a homosexual in unrequited love with the bisexual Carr. Kammerer was Carr's mentor in many artistic ways, and therefore, by proxy, a mentor to the fledgling Beat movement. But it doesn't tell the story very well. This is a boring book, with little tension or plot development. If I hadn't known the story already (there is a much better movie called Kill Your Darlings starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, Dane DeHaan as Carr, and Michael C Hall as Kammerer; the outcome of the story is also spoiled in the inner fly leaf of the book) I'd have been very shocked at the murder because nothing in the novel's storyline or characterizations would lead one to believe Carr was inclined to actually murder Kammerer. This was written by Burroughs and Kerouac in alternating first person chapters, and was completed ten years before either writer was published. There are flashes here of, not brilliance, but at least good writing. But nothing here would have led me to believe Burroughs and Kerouac would become the iconic authors I have read (although, as an aside, I view Burroughs as being a much better and more creative writer than Kerouac- Jack was good, especially for his time, but Burroughs was great). And as a narrative of such a highly charged and emotional event as the murder of ones mentor, and an integral party in the creation of an artistic movement, this novel falls completely flat. 2stars
  2. I bought this book back in 1996 and had several failed attempts to read it, before replacing it in the bookcase, from which it has been taunting me ever since. This year, a good decade since my last attempt, I decided to give it one last try and I was surprised to make it through from start to finish. It's easy to see why I had previously struggled. Just a couple of chapters into the book it becomes clear that there is no storyline to follow. In fact, it is said that Burroughs randomly mixed up the chapters of his manuscript in the publisher's office, claiming that it would create as good an order as any. Each chapter is essentially a short sketch based on Burroughs' experiences as a junkie, with some of these sketches involving recurring themes and characters and occasional glimpses of social commentary and satire. There are some seemingly never ending graphic sex scenes in the middle of the book, which were pretty off-putting and many of the chapters rambled along without grabbing my attention, but every now and again a fantastic bit of imagary or an amusing set-piece would spring out of nowhere and drag you back into the seedy, grimy world Burroughs has created. Given how much effort I had to make to get through the book, I didn't feel I got enough from it to merit my perseverance. It's cited as a 'Beat Generation' classic, but I didn't see much of a link to other novels I've read from that genre. It reminded me more of a drug-fuelled version of Miller's 'Tropic of Cancer'. I'd be interested to know if anyone's managed to fare better with this book than I have.
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