Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The Wind From Nowhere - J G Ballard

If the wind disturbs you (like it has me since the Great Storm of 1987) and you do not like deep places like mines and tunnels (I was never able to use the pedestrian tunnel under the Tyne), then this book will give you palpitations. It certainly gave me some uncomfortable moments.

The story is simple. A great storm begins sweeping round the globe, with winds increasing slowly day by day. To begin with it is an inconvenience, but it begins to dawn on people that it is going to get a lot worse before it all dies down. But all the preparations are unable to withstand the winds that blow constantly at three hundred miles an hour.

In this mayhem as cities fall, lakes are swept dry, topsoil ripped away; we follow various groups of people as their numbers are whittled away by nature and by the scramble for resources.

It is uncompromising, bleak, and unlike what Brian Aldiss called the ‘cosy catastrophes’ of earlier English writers, it is clear that once the winds drop, the problems are only really about to begin.

This is Ballard’s first novel, published in 1961. It is not his best, but it was written at a time when publishers were more likely to allow a long term potential to develop. And Ballard already had a track record as a writer of short stories. Yet it is not a bad novel, which makes it all the more strange that Ballard should disown it. It is not clear why as he simply does not mention it, talking of The Drowned World as his first novel.

It is true that The Wind From Nowhere is episodic and that the characters are not so well defined as they later become in his work. It is also true that it was written in a very short space of time – two weeks according to some sources. But this still does not make it a bad book. And whilst it may have its flaws, it is recognisably Ballardian in so many ways. A pity then that a writer who has had such an influence on so many others, who has helped to shape new approaches to writing, should be ashamed of his own first steps. We all have to start somewhere, and this is an honourable beginning.