J. G. Ballard

As a project to get reading and writing regularly, I will try to read all of JG Ballard's novels.

Posted in Books on Monday, August 2nd 2010.

Reading "Crash" at 17 left me in a state of numb shock. It got me hooked and left me with J. G. Ballard as one of my favourite authors. I then devoured a short story collection called "Myths of the Near Future" around the same time. You may recognise it because the Klaxons appropriated the title for their debut album. Those stories captured my imagination, in particular the eponymous story of a world gone to run amid "space sickness".

Later on, I tried “Concrete Island” and “High Rise” but couldn’t willget into them. But I found “The Crystal World” much easier to follow. I’ve not read much of his long form fiction but I have waded through the complete collection of short stories.

Even though you can't read books to order, I bought ten of his novels last week. They're cheap on Amazon and Waterstone’s extended their three-for-two offer to all fiction paperbacks. I was keen to take on a range of books that cover Ballard’s career. I decided on these novels. The list links to the wikipedia page for each book but beware, those links will contain plot spoilers:

  1. The Drowned World
  2. The Drought (AKA The Burning World)
  3. The Crystal World
  4. Crash
  5. Concrete Island
  6. High-Rise
  7. The Unlimited Dream Company
  8. Hello America
  9. The Day of Creation
  10. Rushing To Paradise

UPDATE: I also bought the following later novels.

  1. Cocaine Nights
  2. Super-Cannes
  3. Kingdom Come

You can group the novels in different ways. I do this because I would like to write about the novels individually and collectively. I can't offer deep textual analysis, just a gut reaction to the characters, scenarios and writing in these books. That, and how each novel relates to previous ones. My classification of the novels goes like this:

  • The apocalyptic novels: The Drowned World, The Drought and The Crystal World. In these novels, the world undergoes a massive ecological change. Ballard casts us in the role of dispassionate observer, like Kerans in The Drowned World and Sanders in The Crystal World. Despite portraying a collapse of the physical world, the psychological effects of the events drive the story.
  • The concrete novels: This sequence from the mid-70s (Crash, Concrete Island and High-Rise) forms a loose trilogy. It sketches out a response to the concrete architecture and the motoring golden age of the late 60s and early 70s. As ever, a dark psychology lurks beneath. The protagonist of Crash pursues Vaughan: a lunatic hell-bent on crashing his car into the limousine of Elizabeth Taylor. A car accident maroons a modern-day Robinson Cruse on that novel’s Concrete Island. High-Rise begins with the central character’s contemplations “as he sat on balcony eating the dog”. In this trilogy, apocalypse does not ruin the world, rather people, celebrity, cars, and sex do.
  • The euphoric novels: You can sum up the remaining four as beginning with a euphoric act of creation setting events in motion. A plane crash in The Unlimited Dream Company, an excursion to the ruined America (the apocalypse again, after the fact) in Hello America, a third African river spontaneously forming in The Day of Creation or the quest for ecological salvation in Rushing To Paradise. The apocalypse resurfaces often but these novels also blend in elements of Ballard's later writing: things like celebrity and exploring sexual psychoses arise again within this quartet.

The divisions I impose between the novels may be artificial, but I hope they uncover plenty of stuff to write about. I will post about each novel as I read it.