Monday, April 20, 2009

Death of J G Ballard

The novelist and short story writer, J G Ballard (1930 - 2009) has died. His best known books are Crash and the autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, both of which have been made into films.

The Collins English Dictionary has included the adjective "Ballardian", which it defines as "resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard's novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments".

The two Ballard novels I've read are Cocaine Nights (1996) and Super Cannes (2000) and I enjoyed both. These are novels with similar themes and plots each dealing with seemingly ideal luxury enclosed communities. In both cases there are dark secrets and underworlds of violence and crime which are there for the purpose of maintaining their seemingly perfect balance. I have his Complete Short Stories published in 2002 which runs to 1183 pages.

He was especially interesting when experimenting with form. His short story The Index (1977) is written in the form of an index to a biography of "one of the most remarkable figures of the 20th century" a character called Henry Rhodes Hamilton (HRH). Entries like Kennedy, John F., President, declines to receive HRH, 420; ignores danger warnings, 425; mourned by HRH, 444 and Dealey Plaza (Dallas Texas), rumoured presence of HRH, 435 give a flavour of the work.

Another story Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown (1976) consists of a single eighteen word sentence with a footnote on every word. These footnotes make up the narrative.

Obituaries here and here. His website is here.

"Crossing frontiers is my profession. Those strips of no-man's land between the checkpoints always seem such zones of promise, rich with the possibilities of new lives, new scents and affections. At the same time they set off a reflex of unease that I have never been able to repress." (Beginning of Chapter 1, Cocaine Nights).


Unknown said...

Another literary giant leaves us... lots of these books and things I must chase up.

Michael Farry said...

I know, so much to read. The short stories give a good flavour of his work.