Friday, May 22, 2009

RIP JG Ballard

I love JG Ballard and was very sad to learn of his passing several weeks back. It did make me pick up and read The Kindness of Women, a book I’ve been meaning to read for years. I can’t recommend the book enough. Like his brilliantly harrowing bio, Empire of the Sun, which chronicles his childhood years in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai during World WWII, The Kindness of Women is another semi-autobiographical novel. The Kindness of Women revisits his Shanghai years, and then follows his life through his years in Cambridge, Saskatchewan and his beloved Shepperton, where he finds salvation in family life and his children. The book also does a great job exploring the tumultuous sixties. That’s a scene that’s been done to death, but I’m tempted to say Ballard has done it best. He has a unique window into that world. Free spirits are attracted to him and he’s willing to dabble and explore but with the distance of a family man a little too old for that sort of thing. In a clever bit of symmetry, the book culminates with Ballard revisiting a fabricated Shanghai on the studio lot in Shepperton during the filming of Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Empire of the Sun. One of the things I loved about Empire of the Sun (the book) was that though it is completely different in style and tone to all of Ballard’s fiction, it manages to lay down the blueprint for all his fiction work. Ballard’s sci-fi work and dystopian future worlds are filled with mass-psychosis, sleep deprivation, and fractured societies. It’s a world that can be cold, confusing and off-putting to some, but makes total sense once you learn about his childhood experiences. The Kindness of Women functions in much the same way with a hint more emphasis on Ballard’s psycho-sexual explorations. The seeds of Crash are laid out in detail in the latter portions of The Kindness of Women. Also, the book really shows how his experiences in Shanghai shape him, for better or worse, throughout his entire adult life. Best of all it reads like a great, classic novel.

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