Sunday, 14 February 2010

A User's Guide To The Millennium - J G Ballard

Having read bits and pieces of Ballard’s non-fiction over the years, it was a treat to add this to my Ballard collection and read them all in a short space of time. The pieces are, for the most part, reviews of books, films, and art exhibitions, but there are also other pieces. They are also short, 90 packed into a book of 300 pages. This makes the book ideal for dipping, should you so wish, yet allows you to soak up the intensity of each piece and keep reading. Dipping is fun; a continuous read gives you an altogether Ballardian experience. And as each piece is dated you could (and one day I will) read them chronologically.

Ballard as a fiction writer is well known (even if you have never read his work, you have probably heard of him and have some idea of the kind of thing he writes). He has never shied away from the fact he wrote science fiction; he has never been ashamed of being fiercely intellectual. Yet all this sits lightly. Whilst he did not eschew these things, he did not make a big deal of them either.

The same is true of his non-fiction. This pieces display a deep interest in a wide variety of subjects and show just how intelligent, imaginative, and original his view of the world was. Written in an easy style and leavened with humour, you know that even if you don’t always agree with what he has to say it will always be interesting and stimulating.

The other great thing about this collection is the insight it affords into his fiction. In the autobiographical pieces we see where many of the images that haunt his work originate; in the writings on art, we see how these images were enriched. His thoughts on science fiction show how he came to write what he did. Indeed, you might be tempted to think of this book as a user’s guide to J G Ballard. But there is always a gap there, a fence, a firmly closed door. Which is exactly as it should be, because although Ballard wrote about the cult of celebrity, he had the good sense and integrity to keep his own life to himself.

So if you want to understand Ballard a bit better, this is a good place to look. But don’t expect to learn everything; because although these pieces allow you a peek around the back of the scenery, as it were, all you will find is more scenery. The director is somewhere else, living his own life in the privacy of his own home with his family around him.