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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 Daniel Defoe

Fun facts about Daniel Defoe, one of Britain’s first novelists

1. He was born Daniel Foe. The French ‘De’ was a later affectation. Daniel Foe was born in around 1660, though the exact date is unknown. He lived through the Great Plague of 1665, an event he would later document in a work of part-fiction, part non-fiction, his Journal of the Plague Year. During the Great Fire of London a year later, in 1666, Defoe was almost caught up in the blaze: of all the houses in his neighbourhood, only Defoe’s and two other houses remained standing. Read the rest of this entry

Interesting Facts about Robinson Crusoe

Fun facts about Daniel Defoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe, with an interesting summary of its impact

Robinson Crusoe, often called the first English novel, is the tale of one man’s survival on a desert island following a shipwreck – although Crusoe later discovers the island isn’t as deserted as he first thought. The longer, considerably less snappy title of the novel which appeared on the title-page of the first edition in 1719 read: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. What follows are some of our favourite facts about Robinson Crusoe (as the novel is more commonly known).  Read the rest of this entry