“…the mystery of multi-storey car parks…the poetry of abandoned hotels”
“In a completely sane world, madness is the only freedom”
I was sad to hear of the death of JG Ballard, certainly one of my favourite authors, if not the favourite. In fact, oddly, I’d only just dusted down a previously-lost copy of High Rise when I heard of the rumours of his death on Twitter.
Since Ballard himself described his early life – framed by hardship and tragedy – in Empire of the Sun and his dalliances with booze and drugs, odd fascinations and exotic lifestyle are well documented, there doesn’t seem to be any point in repeating them here.
Suffice to say the one thing I found most fascinating about Ballard was that he lived most of his adult life in Shepperton.
Despite the fact that the London suburb seems like the apotheosis of suburban boredom, Ballard was well-travelled, well-versed and seemingly experienced in all aspects of life.
His devotion to, and fascination with, Shepperton seems to me to be indicative of Ballard’s peculiar talent to see the everyday in a way completely at odds to others.
The dull descriptions of Ballard’s work as science-fiction or ‘cult’, which the BBC has bafflingly decided to label Ballard’s canon, don’t really get to the nub of what made Ballard tick.
Environmental and apocalyptic disaster, surrealistic dreamscapes and societal collapse certainly form the basis of much of Ballard’s early work, but he increasingly turned towards thrillers that were really concerned with psychopathology and society through a prism of uniquely Ballardian murder mysteries.
His latter realist works, including Cocaine Nights, Super Cannes, Millennium People and Kingdom Come concentrate on people struggling to come to terms with technology, architecture and a civilised society that counterpoint unconscious base desires and instincts.
All of Ballard’s work is intriguing, challenging and unsettling. His worldview has given rise to the adjective Ballardian, generally used to describe dystopia and recently used by myself to refer to Liverpool One, the city’s new inner-city retail and leisure complex.
With Ballard gone, I wonder who else there is to describe our everyday lives and society with the same weird, unsettling insight as that of JGB.