JG Ballard

I just heard yesterday that JG Ballard had died after a long illness.

As is the way nowadays, his reputation is based on the two books that were made into films. Namely
Empire of the Sun, and Crash. Although his fame proper probably began with the publication of Empire of the Sun, which sold very respectably when it came out. It told a slightly fictionalised story of his childhood in a Japanese internment camp during the second world war. For people already familiar with his work, it set his previous stories into a firm context, the sun-scorched deserted suburban environments, the characters struggling to make sense of a fractured reality. The dislocated reality that he wrote about, was here in his childhood.

In a way, pulling back the magician's curtain seemed to diminish his imaginative achievement. But his imagination was about so much more than dried up swimming pools and whale like abandonned Oldsmobiles.

His writing was not about outer space, but about inner space. They were fictions focussed tightly in on the protaginist, generally someone trying to make sense of their world, albeit through some form of personal ritual. They were cyphers, almost devoid of human emotion or feeling, save a desire to understand. The sort of fate that befalls children, destined never to effect much change, but just to try and figure things out.

I have always loved to read, but it was reading Ballard that first alerted me to the subversive, challenging role that writing should occupy. I read through
The Disaster Area,
Low Flying Aircraft
Vermilion Sands,
High Rise, Crash, Unlimited Dream Company, the Drowned World, the Crystal World

greedily. My sixth year studies dissertation was on
Magic, Mystery and Technology in the works of JG Ballard, years before anyone had ever heard of him.

Subsequently I have continued to read him on and off. Each piece of writing is very much a small fragment of the larger whole, it is quite repetitive, I would not read everything. But he had a living to make from writing, and who can berate a craftsman for repetition. As his later more autobiographical writings made clear, he lost a much loved wife, and brought up his children himself. For all his literary iconoclasm, he comes across as a pretty decent person, who did his best and was happy to recognise and acknowledge the goodness in others.

We have lost a very fine writer, and a decent human being, but we are the richer for having known him.