Monday, 21 March 2011

Running Wild - J G Ballard

Whilst The Day Of Creation seems to be a coda to Ballard’s earlier work, this novella prefigures the later novels. It is not a complete change. All the Ballardian concerns, ideas, and symbols are there, as is the trademark surrealism. But Ballard is no longer prophesying as the world he foresaw had, by the time of this work, come to pass. So Ballard lifts the body of society onto the table and with a sharp knife, flays the skin to let us look underneath.

Short and passionless, as befits the psychological report the story claims to be, this is nonetheless compelling, not least because of what is left unsaid; because of its implications. It also suits the world described – a safe, sterile environment, the perfect world as envisioned by a particularly unimaginative class of people who still hold sway over the world, bankrupting it whilst withdrawing into their elitist and protected enclaves. In this, Ballard is still a prophet because he foresaw that these people were taking the seeds of their own doom in with them.

Set in a small, gated community protected by the latest in security and serviced by those who live without the wire fencing, this tells of the massacre of the inhabitants and the disappearance of all the children. Theories abound, but very few people are prepared to face the truth. One such is the narrator who shows just how the children killed their parents and why.

This nightmare scenario probably does not shock so much now, but Ballard was there early pointing out that keeping children in a sterile environment is not a good thing. Over protectiveness and the ubiquity of digital entertainment have already given rise to concerns about social interaction and obesity. Take that to its extremes and one wonders how long it will be before the social problems lead to extreme psychological breakdown.

As always, Ballard writes with a visual eye. The scene is beautifully realised, the estate accurately drawn (although only sketchily as this is a short work). Indeed, the environment is the key and it is this that is given more space than the human characters that in habit it. They are unknown and, in the case of the children because they are sui generis, unknowable until found. And perhaps even then they would remain a mystery. The story is filmic in its quality and would make great television, provided the production team could be trusted to keep to the low key delivery that Ballard uses and which delivers this kind of story with far greater impact than thrills and spills.

Not, perhaps, a master work from Ballard, but certainly a thought provoking and eerie piece of work.