Year of a Hundred books – #15 And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks

And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their TanksAnd The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,

by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac


This rather morbidly (and irrelevantly) titled book tells a fictionalised story of the murder that launched the Beat Generation, a crime both authors were arrested in relation to, though neither were directly involved.

I’m not a huge fan of the Beats (aside from Allen Ginsberg), but this was quite compelling. Set during the Second World War, with two of the characters (one of whom is Burroughs’ alter-ego) invested in trying to enlist in the navy, it actually reminded me a lot of the last book I read all the way through (more on this in a future post). Of course, unlike Bellow’s existentially fraught protagonist, Burroughs and Kerouac’s peers are, as even the most limited knowledge of the Beats will imply, a feckless bunch of wasters.

Through as far as I can tell the first work Burroughs and Kerouac wrote, chronologically speaking, The book was published posthumously for both the authors and the perpetrator, though it is, according to the editor’s notes, far from the only interpretation of the events published by members of the group. These editors notes were actually almost as interesting as the novel itself, almost providing an element of closure to the story. While the fictionalised account ends fairly abruptly, the notes tells what happens next, and I think, some much-needed context that is absent from the novel.

I’m still unlikely to love either Kerouac or Burroughs writing simply because I enjoyed this, but I think this, early work that doesn’t quite have their signature styles, worth a read.

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