On the Holloway Road – Andrew Blackman

After reading A Virtual Love last year, I made it one of my New Year’s resolutions to read On the Holloway Road, Andrew Blackman’s first novel who won the Luke Bitmead Award in 2008.

Because it was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, I was a little worried that I might miss something important if I don’t read that one first, but decided to go ahead and read it anyway. Perhaps I’ll read Kerouac’s book one day, but I’m in no hurry.

On the Holloway Road The story follows Jack and Neil, two young men in their twenties who strike a friendship one night in London, on the Holloway Road. Jack lives with his mother and dreams of one day finishing his novel, a complicated story that he had been trying to complete for a while with no success. Neil is a drifter, a free spirit who takes things as they come, whose exuberance and joy for living are mixed with a carefree attitude and little thought to consequences. Neil lives in the now. Jack lives in the shadow of it. Both of them are united by a lack or purpose, of a tangible goal, until they decide to take a road trip in Jack’s car, follow the road, have adventures, see what might happen. But their dream of embracing the spontaneity of the unknown doesn’t quite fit with the regulations of the present. There are rules to be obeyed, and before long Jack breaks a few, which makes him constantly worry about having his driver’s license revoked.

Neil is exciting to be with. His brash actions, loud mouth and exuberant attitude make Jack feel like a pale copy of who he thinks he should be. Neil is the spark, the adventure, the unknown. He is a shooting star, a meteorite burning brightly before crashing to the earth, the flame that burns the moths attracted to its light. He wants something new, something fascinating, something that’s never been tried before, while Jack is just content to tag along in the hope that some of his friend’s enthusiasm for life will rub off on him. He admires Neil but he’s also a little afraid of him. Although he would like to be more excited about things going on around him, he feels he can’t. In a way, it felt like something was holding him back, what that was, I don’t know. Fear perhaps, of standing out too much, of breaking the rules, while trying in his quiet way small acts of rebellion against the system – not owning a cell phone or holding a job.
Over the course of their trip they discuss friendship, work, and that ever present issue, the purpose of life.

As I was reading I was wandering what will happen in the end, how long will the trip last, what revelation will they come to. Will they find a purpose, a solution, a conclusion, a job, maybe Jack will finally catch a break and finish that novel, perhaps even become famous, and will Neil finally quench that anger that seems to be burning inside him, making him restless and volatile? In a way, I dreaded the ending, because I knew my expectations were unrealistic, but I was unable to let go of hope, of something better for the protagonists after their modern day trials. I was not disappointed. The end came crashing, and it was fitting, even though I had hoped for something less heart wrenching. I had hoped that Jack would finally be able to shake that feeling of gloom and do something, anything that would lift him from the pit he seemed to be descending into day by day. I even think he managed to climb up halfway at least when he met Neil, but it didn’t last long. In the end, he was down even deeper.

On the Holloway Road is the perfect name for this adventure of self discovery, not only because that is the way the two protagonists take to get out of the city, but because even though the journey brings about some self discoveries, in the end I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all like the name of the road, hollow.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in August, 2014

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6 Responses to On the Holloway Road – Andrew Blackman

  1. Vishy says:

    Beautiful review, Delia! Glad to know that you finally got to read ‘On the Holloway Road’. I loved these two sentences from your review – “Neil lives in the now. Jack lives in the shadow of it.” I loved the way the battle between spontaneity and structure is depicted in the story. I haven’t read Jack Kerouac’s book either, but hope to read it some day. ‘On the Holloway Road’ is one of my favourite books and I am so glad that you liked it. Though some of the thoughts and insights that it describes are bleak, almost 19th century Russian, I loved it. I can’t wait to read Andrew’s next book. Thanks for this beautiful review!

    • Vishy says:

      I forgot to say one more thing. Congratulations on completing one of your New Year Resolutions 🙂

      • Delia says:

        One New Year resolution down, fifty more to go. Just kidding. 🙂
        I did like the book but if I have to choose between this and “A Virtual Love”, I choose the latter. I found it hard to keep on reading through the bleakness, but I did like the ending, even if it’s the bleakest of all. I actually felt sad, because in the end neither spontaneity nor conformity won.
        I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a bit more hope in book number three.

        On a lighter note, I had to google Figaro, Jack’s car. It’s a really cute car. Oh, and the description of food really made me hungry. I miss a good kebab. 🙂

  2. I really liked A Virtual Love but have not yet read this one. I plan to do so soon.

    As I found with A Virtual Love, the characters in this one sound very well crafted.

    • Delia says:

      Looking forward to your comment on it when you get to read the book, Brian. With this one, the focus is on two characters and we do get a lot of details about them which makes them sympathetic to the reader.

  3. Pingback: Guest post – Andrew Blackman | Postcards from Asia

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