Penguin £25

The Sea Is My Brother: The Lost Novel, By Jack Kerouac

Was Jack Kerouac right to be so critical of his own – until now unpublished – early scribblings, or was there some merit to his maiden voyage?

Another year, another "lost" Jack Kerouac classic.

Kerouac must be one of the most posthumously prolific authors ever. Following his death in 1969 at the age of 47, there came a flurry of poetry collections, a trend that was repeated in the early Nineties with fresh compilations such as Pomes All Sizes and San Francisco Blues.

A collection of early writing, Atop an Underwood, was produced in 1999 but it was 2002's publication of a never before seen novella, Orpheus Emerged, which heralded a period of mining of the unpublished Kerouac held by his estate, resulting in his play The Beat Generation (2005) and, two years later, the "unexpurgated" version of his classic On the Road, famously written on a continuous 120ft scroll of taped together sheets of paper in (according to Allen Ginsberg), three coffee -and-Benzedrine-fuelled weeks in 1951. Wake Up, a biography of Buddha, and Kerouac's collaboration with William S Burroughs, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks were both published in 2008.

It is, however, The Sea Is My Brother which has perhaps the most significance, being the first novel Kerouac ever wrote, while a merchant seaman in 1942-43. It is a slight affair, and less than a third of the page-count of this volume, which is filled out with other early writings, and correspondence between Kerouac and his childhood friend – and eventual brother-in-law – Sebastian Sampas. Kerouac and Sampas were the heart of what Kerouac termed the Young Prometheans, the group of writers and thinkers based around his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, who paved the way for Kerouac's role in the creation of what would become the Beat Generation.

The novella follows two characters, old-hand seaman Wesley Martin and Columbia professor Bill Everhart, who hook up and ship out for Greenland carrying war cargo – a journey that Kerouac himself undertook on the SS Dorchester. The plot is minimal, and in both style and construction the novel betrays Kerouac's immaturity as a writer. There are point-of-view switches between characters almost at random, sometimes within the same paragraph, and no one in The Sea Is My Brother ever said a line of dialogue when they could have exclaimed, called, supplied, smiled, interrupted, added or so on.

If the execution leaves much to be desired, though, the novel does show the foundations Kerouac was laying for his future work. There are wonderful bursts of Kerouackian jazz-prose which break through the strictures of the conventional novel, and even then his ear for dialogue was sharp and naturalistic.

In the main characters we can perhaps see the emerging dichotomy of the youthful Kerouac – just 20 when he started writing the novel. Wesley Martin is the archetypal "vanishing American" of Kerouac's later work; the free-spirited, wandering hobo template upon which he later pressed all kinds of mystical dimensions and which found embodiment in Kerouac's soul-brother Neal Cassady, immortalised in On the Road as Dean Moriarty. Bill Everhart is the deep thinker; the classroom philosopher seeking true experience rather than received wisdom. Both could be contained within the young Kerouac, who simultaneously craved adventure and learning and had not yet reconciled how one could inform the other.

The question remains, though, whether Kerouac would ever have wanted such an immature work released. Presumably, at the height of his fame he could have had it published – but chose not to. Indeed, according to Gerald Nicosia's biography, Memory Babe, Kerouac branded it "a crock as literature". In Ann Charters's celebrated biog, Kerouac, she quotes him as saying The Sea Is My Brother was "more an example of handwriting than of a novel", pre-empting Truman Capote's famous criticism of On the Road as "typing not writing".

The reason for Kerouac's abandonment and rejection of The Sea Is My Brother lies in his discovery, while at sea, of John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga. He conceived of his own series of autobiographical novels – "one grand tale" – which led him to write his romans à clef On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Desolation Angels and Big Sur, for which he is rightly remembered.

Kerouac's time in the merchant navy is well documented, not least in his own final published work, Vanity of Duluoz. But that was written from the perspective of Kerouac in 1968, a year before his death, when the Beats had come and gone and he was living with his mother and his third wife, Stella Sampas, waiting for the years of drink to finally destroy him.

The real value in The Sea Is My Brother is that it shows that Kerouac didn't spring fully formed as the "King of the Beats", but had an evolution, a period of growing up and maturing, and that he – as any great writer must – certainly paid his dues.

To order any of these books at a reduced price, including free UK p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 0843 0600 030 or visit independentbooksdirect.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
music

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain