Category: J. G. Ballard

Thoughts at the halfway point of Rushing to Paradise

There is a pace about Ballard that grabs you by the eyeballs and leads you into places that you fear to look at. You know that the relationship between the passionate but unhinged Dr Barbara and the young lonely animal rights campaigner Neil is going to go to dark places.

She is determined to save the albatross nesting on an island being used by the French for nuclear experiments but he is following his primeval dreams of visiting and witnessing the nuclear destruction that destroyed his father who was exposed to tests.

The two set sail for the island and face the French, bullets and madness resulting in Neil being shot and becoming some sort of pin-up hero for the cause which rapidly starts snowballing into much more of a determined effort to return to the island and stay fighting off the French permanently to create some sort of paradise.

But with the knowledge of Dr Barbara’s murderous past as a doctor happy to kill her elderly patients off and as a witness to her obsessive madness the question mark hovers over just exactly how far Neil is prepared to go with the Dr.

A review will be posted soon…

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book review – The Crystal World – JG Ballard

Science is not one of my strong points so I’m not going to pretend by using long words that the causes of the crystallisation that sweeps the African jungle and Florida swamps is terribly clear to me.

However, the lack of complete understanding didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book because this is tapping into the usual Ballardian themes of society breaking down and the reaction of intelligent people to that collapse in social order.

As the jungle crystallises a former leper colony doctor heads back into the jungle not just to see the crystallisation process first-hand but also to reconnect with an old flame. On the boat up the river, a very Conradeque moment, the main character Dr Sanders notices another passenger, Ventress, who it becomes clear later on is on a similar mission to fight with a mine-owner for possession of his dying ex-wife.

The army is holding the line against expanding shimmering jewelled jungle but the main focus to start with is not to enter the jewelled zone but to work out just how the people on the edges of it can be liberated.

In a classic Ballardian way the choice then moves into a more crucial stage which is for the individuals to decide how they want to react to the prospect of life or death. A primeval urge seems to be driving some characters into the jungle into a world where death comes as the skin turns to crystals shimmering and glittering as the very breath it shut up inside the victim.

In a very graphical moment Sanders tries to save the life of an army officer who is crystallising by clearing his mouth by pulling off the crystals. Later on the edge of the affected zone he realises with horror his handiwork has maimed the officer ripping off his skin.

The choice for Sanders is to run, follow the example of his leprosy suffering former girlfriend and embrace the change or crystallisation. The army pulls out and the spread of the crystals continues to gather pace covering the trees and grasses in a shimmering blanket of sparkling frost.

For Sanders the pull back to the crystals and that sense of deciding to embrace the crystals is something that takes time. As a reader you are left sharing that indecision until the very end.

As you come to expect from Ballard the writing is tight, the cast selective and the attention to detail, making the whole thing plausible, is there in abundance. Personally I would run. But facing the pull of the strange lights and the impact on the mind who knows?

Just as with the Drowned World the actions of the main character cannot be logically explained. In a world that has been turned upside down perhaps the primeval instinct is over powering? Brilliantly described and Ballardian with a capital B this along with High Rise and Drowned World has to be one the books by him that is highly recommendable.

book review – The Drought – JG Ballard

“…he now felt that the white deck of the river was carrying them all in the opposite direction, forward into zones of time future where the unresolved residues of the past would appear smoothed and rounded, muffled by the detritus of time, like images in a clouded mirror. Perhaps these residues were the sole elements contained in the future, and would have the bizarre and fragmented quality of the debris through which he was now walking. None the less they would all be merged and resolved in the soft dust of the drained bed.”

There is something very clever about describing a world without location and time because your imagination fills in the blanks. This could be America and it could be in ten years time. What really matters is that underneath the apocalyptic drought there is the ability to chart how human beings in a great position of stress react to the calamity.

Some seem to go into denial, the majority scramble to the coast and to the sea in search of water and others take an observational position, like the main character Dr Charles Ransom, waiting to see how things develop and waiting to see how they will react personally to those changes.

The breakdown of society is one of Ballard’s big themes but cast that on top of a world in acute stress caused by a lack of water and it brings out the extremes in people.

The basic premise is that industrial waste has been pumped into the oceans and turned into some sort of plastic film that prevents evaporation and the usual formation of rain clouds.

Ransom is living aptly in a house boat beached on the banks of an ever dwindling lake with the cars going across the highway heading towards the coast and the fisherman and pleasure boats slowly grinding to a halt. His ex-wife works in the town for the police and it is a journey to his former marital home that spreads out the canvas and introduces some more characters including the strange but rich character who lives in a hou8se with constant beaming lights at the top of the hill.

Just like the architect figure Royal in High Rise the rich maverick refuses to leave the town and sits in his white house making plans and hoarding the water in his swimming pool. Assisted by his unhinged sister and the village idiot he remains even as the fishermen start to hunt down people and the religious leader gives up and heads to the coast.

Ransom is finally driven out himself and travelling with an odd collection of characters that represent some of the varying degrees of possible reactions to the drought he heads for the coast. Once there a sort of hell with barbed wire, guns and the army between the masses and the sea awaits. Tensions rise and finally the tide of human anger and desperation washes away the barriers.

Skip forward and Ransom has been reunited with his wide and is living a hand to mouth existence in a world dominated by religious groups that have settled on the salt covered shoreline.

Going back to the town of the past Ransom faces up to a world where madness reigns. The lack of authority has provided the owner of the white house with a chance to rule in a town where the main enemies are the roaming fishermen. Ransom seems to have given up and becomes part of the court of the water king until it falls apart.

The reader is challenged to think about how they would react in a similar situation. Do you run for the coast, do you stay? And regardless of what you do how long could you keep sane in a world where all the perspectives are changing.

The Crystal World – post II

Not only does Ballard manage to describe so effectively a change in the landscape that is gently apocalyptic but takes his lead character into a position of deciding how to react.

Having seen the forest crystalise in front of his eyes and those caught in it suffer a metamorphisis where their skin becomes encrusted in jewels Ransom still feels drawn to the forest. With the discovery that his former mistress has leprosy, which is of course a theme, and then chooses to take her own life by embracing the other deadly form of transformation.

As he stumbles through the private war between the mine owner and the architect Ventress the army withdraws and the individuals left in the affected zone have to make a decision for themselves about fleeing or embracing death. The priest opts for the later and so do some of the locals. But for the main character the pull back to the crystals and that sense of deciding to embrace the crystals is something that takes time. As a reader you are left sharing that indecision until the very end.

As you come to expect from Ballard the writing is tight, the cast selective and the attention to detail, making the whole thing plausible, is there in abundance. Personally I would run. But facing the pull of the strange lights and the impact on the mind who knows?

A review will follow soon…

The Crystal World – post I

In some respects this book reminds you of both Conrad’s Journey into the Heart of Darkness and Greene’s novels set in colonial jungles. But this has a more sinister edge. You know that not all is as it seems and as Sanders gets closer to meeting his former mistress in the jungles of a former French colony the silence, mistrust and strange behaviour starts to creep into the narrative.

What is happening finally becomes clear as the jungle starts to demonstrate the effects of crystallisation. Sanders is a leprosy specialist and in turn nature seems diseased and suffering from the impact of some strange process. The natural conclusion to draw is that the local diamond mines have somehow infected the landscape but as Sanders gets closer to the source of the outbreak something different is happening and it has the ability to change everything in its path.

Crystal skinned crocodiles try to break through crystallised streams past glittering trees. Plus this is also happening in the swamps of Florida and somewhere in Russia. Sitting on Sanders shoulder you go into the heart of the jungle and some of the mysteries start to unfold.

More soon…

The Drought – post IV

The book jumps on again and it has been a decade since the drought began. Ransom is holed up with his ex wife and in conflict with the main camp of survivors. He knows that staying by the sea is a doomed enterprise and he manages to reassemble the original party and head back the 100 miles to the city.

On the way they are greeted with fires, destruction and dust. As they get closer the small cast of freakish characters that Ballard had left in the town are still there fighting and squabbling over water.

Ransom seems happy to slide into an existence of doing nothing but waiting for the end as the days and weeks drift by. Even when the people he is staying with start to fight with themselves he seems unable to take decisive action.

It is only close to presumably the end, with all water gone, that he decides to leave, walk off and head out on his own. It is at that point of course at the moment when he faces the biggest challenge of finding himself, or at least rediscovering himself, that the drought ends.

A review will follow soon…

The Drought – post III

The book flips forward to bring the reader into a world post the break down of law and order. The army has gone and the majority of people have died and disappeared as the drought takes hold.

The salt that is produced when the sea is treated blocks the beach and drives the water miles away from the coast.

The party of original escapees lead by Ransom breaks up and heads in different directions all obsessed with the single ambition to find water and survive.

Ransom, like most of Ballard’s leading characters, seems to be in a daze struggling to really recalibrate to changed circumstances. You always sense that he is superior in intellect to most of those around him but in sense of surviving he seems to be doing no better.

More tomorrow…