And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks

If you know anything about the Beat generation, you’ll have heard of three names in particular: Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Three influential American writers of the 1950s and 60s, their works are not to be missed. But before their work gained recognition, one story was written in 1945 which would not be published for another 63 years. The murder of David Kammerer.

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks recounts through the words of Burroughs and Kerouac a fictionalised version of the infamous murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr, friend to Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac. Whilst it’s simplistic style and frankness was something I expected, one thing was not- this is the most casual approach to murder I have ever read.

Beat writing sees taboo subjects flounced around unashamedly, disapproved of topics written with an unstoppable mix of delight and anger. But the murder of Kammerer is written with a startling numbness which is so jarring you have to pause, flick through the last couple of pages and desperately scan for any sign of emotion.

Admittedly, the whole book is deprived of emotion. Instead, it is the simple ‘facts’, sparse of commas or anything implying excitement from the authors. And it works. The reluctant truth, as Burroughs and Kerouac saw it, their version of the events put forward in an argument strong due to the lack of emotion. It’s a complete contrast to the last book I read, The Silkworm yet just as startlingly powerful.

A murder hurriedly included in the last few pages, as if the writers almost forgot to put it in. Because it was not the murder that needed to be told- it was why it happened. And suddenly, those apparently dreary and irrelevant pages before all make sense.


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