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Crusoe in Concrete: J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reappraises J. G. Ballard’s 1970s masterpiece

‘Art exists because reality is neither real nor significant.’ This remark by J. G. Ballard, who has a claim to being one of the most important English writers of the second half of the twentieth century, strikes at the heart of what drives his fiction. And although it’s not his most famous book, for me the remarkable tour de force that is Ballard’s 1974 novel Concrete Island best demonstrates this.

Ballard has always struck me as a curious mixture of H. G. Wells and William Burroughs, in so far as he can be likened to anybody. Certainly, his novels and stories frequently have the clarity and simplicity of concept that we see in Wells’s fiction, just as the narratives driven by these concepts proceed to undo that simplicity by showing the complications that inevitably ensue. Read the rest of this entry

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Five Fascinating Facts about J. G. Ballard

Interesting facts about the life and books of J. G. Ballard

1. When they rejected J. G. Ballard’s 1973 novel Crash, one publisher remarked that the author was ‘beyond psychiatric help’. Known for exploring unusual and controversial human impulses and their relationship to modernity and technology, Ballard said that everything he wrote was inspired by his early childhood and teenage experiences in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai in the early 1940s. His most popular novel, Empire of the Sun (1984), is about these early years which showed him the ‘pathology’ underlying modern life.  In 1987 Steven Spielberg successfully filmed Empire of the Sun. David Cronenberg directed Crash in 1996; the novel, and film, focus on people who get a sexual thrill out of car accidents. A film adaptation of his 1975 novel High Rise, starring Tom Hiddleston, is set to be released soon. Ballard also provided the story for the 1970 film When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, although he was credited as ‘J. B. Ballard’. In a sense, Ballard was always close to the cinema: for much of his life he lived in Surrey near Shepperton Studios. (Fittingly, Shepperton was one of the places destroyed in H. G. Wells‘s The War of the Worlds, that classic written by Ballard’s great predecessor in British SF.) Read the rest of this entry