5 July 2009

J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World, 1962

Ballard disowned his first novel The Wind From Nowhere, so most people’s Ballard collections now have to start here. It’s a typical Ballardian cataclysm: an overactive sun has produced a melting of the polar ice caps with a submerged Earth undergoing a new Triassic era, and London is now a steamy, coral-encrusted jungle populated by giant iguanas. Robert Kerans is an expedition biologist, enraptured by the disturbing dreams that people share at this latitude, and he chooses to stay when his expedition departs. He then encounters the manic character Strangman and his seductive African entourage, who are all similarly caught up by the end of the world but in a far more sinister and symbolic way. The Drowned World openly references the influence on Ballard of Paul Delvaux, who seems to provide a creative counterpart to Ballard’s own destructive imagery, and once you ‘get’ the character of Strangman, a man with a real heart of darkness and the only properly developed character, Ballard’s intention becomes clear and the rest falls into place. It’s a somewhat stilted read now but memorable for the visual ideas it leaves you with, and given the biblical nature of this apocalypse it’s also refreshingly free of much religious referencing at all.  PY


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