01 May 2009

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks (William S. Burroughs & Jack Kerouac)

To the Kerouac/Burroughs/Beat fans out there - you have got to read this book. And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, written in 1945, is Kerouac before On The Road, Burroughs before Naked Lunch. It is so cool.

Burroughs and Kerouac write as 'Will Dennison' and 'Mike Ryko' respectively, telling the story of the Kammerer/Carr murder. (David Kammerer - obsessed with Lucien Carr, Lucien Carr - kills David Kammerer. Kerouac and Burroughs know about it and don't tell police). This murder has been described as 'the murder which gave birth to the Beats', and in Hippos you get to read about it (in a fictionalised-ish form) from Burroughs and Kerouac themselves. You can't tell me you're not excited by that prospect.

This is another one of those read-for-atmosphere-rather-than-plot books, specifically a constantly drunk, 1940s New York atmosphere. You don't read this book as the mystery it is sold as... in fact if you picked it up expecting a mystery you would be seriously disappointed - the killing of Ramsay Allen (Kammerer) happens in one of the last chapters, followed not by any kind of sleuthing, but a confession from Phillip Tourain (Carr) and a couple of dark dark chapters of aimless drinking.

The book remained unpublished until November last year, as Lucien Carr requested it not be released until after he died. Because of this you experience Kerouac/Burroughs' writing in reverse, you get tantalizing glimpses of the writers which they became.

Added tidbit - the book was supposedly named after a line heard in a radio broadcast about a fire in a zoo (although some say circus) and sparked a lively conversation between my housemates and I about Worse Ways To Die Than By Boiling (for example being eaten alive by ants).

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