Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: The Unlimited Dream Company, by J.G. Ballard

There is, at last, very little to say about this 1979 novel by British science fiction writer J.G. Ballard. It’s one of those books where the back-cover blurb does most of the work for us, which is to say that there isn’t much that happens beyond the blurb worth talking about. The “story” involves a roguish 25-year-old named Blake who steals a small plane from an airfield in London and crashes it into the Thames near the town of Shepperton (which is more of a suburb of London, and the place where Ballard himself lived in a semi-detached for nearly 50 years). The crash precipitates a (very) prolonged dreamlike sequence in which strange flora and fauna begin appearing around the town, its citizens start partaking in all manner of strange sexual rituals, and Blake himself falls for a young doctor named Miriam St. Cloud.

The book is made up almost entirely of long, flowery descriptions by Blake of these dreamlike visions, and we're soon treated to Blake rabidly masturbating over everything as he strolls Shepperton’s streets and fantasizes about raping children and having sex with animals. All the while, he is haunted by the notion of how long he had stayed submerged in his crashed plane before being rescued, and whether there was somebody else hidden away in the cockpit with him at the time. Blake dwells, inexplicably, on the bruises left on his chest from the CPR that revived him, as if they might lend a clue to the mysteries behind his near-death experience.

This book was obviously written in the wake of Ballard’s break-out novel Crash (turned, in the 1990s, into a disturbing film by Canadian director David Cronenberg). But unlike Crash, The Unlimited Dream Company is provocative without being particularly interesting, and there is nothing here for a discerning reader to hang his hat on. The sexual deviance captured on its pages rings hollow and lacks the evocative imagery that Ballard was able to create in his earlier, more successful book. I’m still trying to be a fan of this writer’s work, but this tome wants to steer me in the other direction.

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