Friday, May 22, 2009

Matthew, Book Review, *J.G. Ballard, *Crash

I've been alternately sick and busy as of late, but I finally finished another book on my list: Crash by J.G. Ballard.

Reading Crash (1973) reminded me an awful lot of my experience reading William S. Burrough's Naked Lunch, in that both left me with the distinct impression that Dante really lowballed his idea of what hell could be in the Inferno. The book is narrated by one James Ballard, a television advertising producer who gets into a nasty car crash and is subsequently drawn to become part of a group of people for whom car crashes and sexuality are intrinsically linked.

Yes, you read that correctly: Crash involves sex, violence, and car crashes, but mostly various combinations of the three. Don't get me wrong, the novel isn't all just creepy, nightmarish smut -- it also raises plenty of questions concerning our increasing reliance on and relationship with technology, especially the dangers inherent in allowing those technologies to mediate or even replace our relationships with other human beings. Still, you're going to need a strong stomach if you want to read all the way through to the end. Ballard once explained his reasons for writing the book thusly: "I wanted to rub humanity's face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror." On that account, I'd say he succeeded.

On another note, I remember seeing Ballard's novel Empire of the Sun on at least one reader's list here. An acquaintance of mine once said that after he finished Crash, he was left wondering what would have to happen to a person to make them write a book like that; after reading Empire of the Sun, he thought, "yeah, that would probably do it." Make of that what you will.


Goedi said...

I haven't read any Ballard but read that he died recently which made me do what most publishers bank on: I said, "Oh, I should probably read some Ballard."
What do you say? How was the writing? The subject matter seems to be squeam-inducing, but is a fluid read (or stumbling)?

M. said...

Subject matter aside, the novel reads quite fluidly and never deviates from the logic or tone of its narrative (both perverse and clinically detached at the same time -- once upon a time, Ballard was a med student). I thumbed through the book and found a passage for you that makes for a good representative sample without being as bluntly obscene as all the other representative passages I found:

"The same calm but curious gaze, as if she were still undecided how to make use of me, was fixed on my face shortly afterwards as I stopped the car on a deserted service road among the reservoirs to the west of the airport. When I put my arm around her shoulders she smiled briefly to herself, a nervous rictus of the upper lip which exposed her gold-tipped right incisor. I touched her mouth with my own, denting the waxy carapace of her pastel lipcoat, watching her hand reach out to the chromium pillar of the quarter window. I pressed my lips against the bared and unmarked dentine of her upper teeth, fascinated by the movement of her fingers across the smooth chrome of the window pillar. Its surface was marked along its forward edge by a smear of blue paint left by some disaffected production-line worker. The nail of her forefinger scratched at this fretline, which rose diagonally from the window-sill at the same angle as the concrete ledge of the irrigation ditch ten feet from the car. In my eyes this parallax fused with the image of an abandoned car lying in the rust-stained grass on the lower slopes of the reservoir embankment. The brief avalanche of dissolving talc that fell across her eyes as I moved my lips across their lids contained all the melancholy of this derelict vehicle, its leaking engine oil and radiator coolant."

Goedi said...

Wow, M. Thanks.
I'm not sure it's an omigodigottareadthis book, but it'll go on my next list. I know there was a movie of this and I'm guessing they sensationalized it, but I may check it out before I go to the book.
Thanks again for finding a quote. Nice one, too.

M. said...

You're welcome, Goedi.

I saw the movie a few years ago--I can't say that I'd recommend it. I love most movies that David Cronenberg has directed (especially Spider, Eastern Promises, Videodrome, and eXistenZ), but his adaptation of Crash failed to hit his usual mark of intriguingly unsettling and just ended up being blah and gross.

Of course, I also dislike James Spader enough that he routinely ruins movies for me just by appearing on screen, so that might have had a lot to do with my dislike of the film (I didn't hate Secretary in spite of him, but that might just be because I like Maggie Gyllenhaal that much more).

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Matthew: Sorry to bother you here...can't seem to find an email address...

Still working on Statistics. On your list is "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man" (written by Joyce) but you have it listed as HELLER - who wrote, "Portrait of an Artist as an OLD Man."

Which is the correct one for your list?