Wednesday, September 08, 2010
39. Millenium People by J.G. Ballard
I've read quite a few of Ballard's books and I rank him very high, but I'm not such a big fan of his later works and don't totally get the hype around that period. For me, it's his early post-apocalyptic books, The Empire of the Sun and High Rise that really stand out. But the pundits seem to consider Crash the peak of his career. I picked up Millenium People because the premise was so appealing. It's about a revolt by a bunch of upper middle-class people in London. It was an interesting read, but it felt bogged down by the constant, and arguably repetitive imposition of its themes into the story. And the story, unfortunately, lacked the energy and fervour it needed to carry those heavy themes along. High Rise is a very similar theme, but that story had such ferocious and unbuckled savagery that its premise is driven home organically. Here, I felt like Ballard kept interrupting me to remind of what he is really talking about. Furthermore, he uses way too many metaphors that don't seem to serve much of a purpose: "I could still taste the smoke in the doomed auditorium, rolling above my head like a compulsive dream" and "Hungerford? The name flitted through my mind like a trapped moth as we drove back to London."
The thing is, he is a really good writer, so even some of the seemingly meaningless prose is still often enjoyable to read. He does a good job of poking fun at the upper middle class and there is some pretty classic Ballardian weirdness, particularly the story about the nurse who masturbated the severely handicapped children in her ward. But I would not recommend this book unless you are a serious Ballard completist.
On a publishing/marketing note, the end of the book had some neat additions, I guess an initiative the publisher (Harper Perennial) was doing at the time. There is an interview with Ballard, a good analysis of the book that actually made me like it a little better and some recommended readings. I usually find this kind of stuff distracting, but here it was quite nicely laid out, easily digestible with some real information. I hope it did well for them.