Sunday, April 19, 2009


J.G. Ballard, one of my favourite authors, died today. After a "long illness", according to the obituaries, which, as I pointed out a while back, means cancer; prostate cancer in this case, as it happens.

What the world is crying out for now is another potted amateur synopsis of Ballard's career and oeuvre, so here it is: his short stories are uniformly brilliant, so you probably want the two volumes of collected stories - failing that I'd recommend the collections The Disaster Area and War Fever as a good place to start. As for the novels, some read like short stories extended beyond their natural length (High-Rise for instance), others should be read by everyone who appreciates writing of dark and brilliant perversity and imagination, in particular The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash, as long as you aren't turned off by stuff like this:
Already I was aware that the interlocked radiator grilles of our cars formed the model of an inescapable and perverse union between us. I stared at the contours of her thighs. Across them the grey blanket formed a graceful dune. Somewhere beneath this mound lay the treasure of her pubis. Its precise jut and rake, the untouched sexuality of this intelligent woman, presided over the tragic events of the evening.
or this:
In the lavatory of the casualty department I stood beside Vaughan at the urinal staffs. I looked down at his penis, wondering if this too was scarred. The glans, propped between his index and centre fingers, carried a sharp notch, like a canal for surplus semen or vinal mucus. What part of some crashing car had marked this penis, and in what marriage of his orgasm and a chromium instrument head? The terrifying excitements of this scar filled my mind as I followed Vaughan back to his car through the dispersing hospital visitors. Its slight lateral deflection, like the rake of the Lincoln's windshield pillars, expressed all Vaughan's oblique and obsessive passage through the open spaces of my mind.
What appears to be the entire text of the novel is available here. Speaking of last lines of novels as I was in this previous review, check this out (Crash again):
The aircraft rise from the runways of the airport, carrying the remnants of Vaughan's semen to the instrument panels and radiator grilles of a thousand crashing cars, the leg stances of a million passengers.
It wasn't on the list, strangely. A lot of Ballard's later novels seemed to be an obsessive re-working of essentially the same book (albeit a pretty good one), in particular the sequence from 1996's Cocaine Nights through to 2006's Kingdom Come. Oddly, the book he's most famous for, the quasi-autobiographical Empire Of The Sun, is probably the least representative of his output (and as it happens I haven't read it or seen the subsequent Spielberg film).

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