BALLARD WINS 'GUARDIAN' PRIZE
As though in compensation for not winning the Booker Prize, J. G. Ballard has been awarded the 1984 Guardian Fiction Prize. The immediate runner-up was Howard Jacobson's humorous novel Peeping Tom (one of several worthy titles which failed to make it onto the Booker shortlist this year). The Guardian Prize was announced on Thursday 29th November.
The paper's Literary Editor, W. L. Webb, wrote: “The winner is Ballard's Empire of the Sun, a unique reflection in fiction of his childhood experience in wartime Shanghai and in a Japanese prison camp by one of our strongest imaginative writers. Like that other breaker of the moulds of science fiction, Kurt Vonnegut, Ballard's life happened to intersect one of the moral turning points of the war that still sets the political agenda for our times -- an experience that bred insights and tempered the imagination in ways urgently instructive to more sheltered contemporaries.
“Though nothing like the documentary fictions that usually handle such history, Empire of the Sun is more like naturalistic narrative than the tremendous dreamscapes of The Drowned World and The Crystal World, or the urban ‘apocalypse now’ of some of Ballard's subsequent novels. But it carries the same imaginative charge, the same irradiation of the real, as the boy's ‘innocent’ eye composes unforgettable pictures of war's unreason, and the shadows it throws on our myths of what reasonable chaps might expect of life in the late 20th Century.”
TEN WEEKS ON BESTSELLER LISTS
... and still going strong, Empire of the Sun had sold something approaching 40,000 copies by the end of November. It hit the Number One position in the Daily Mail's fiction bestseller list at the beginning of November, and for several weeks running it was in the third, fourth or fifth positions on the Sunday Times and Bookseller lists. It is still in the top ten at this time of writing. During this period it has been competing with such surefire bestsellers as the new thriller titles by Frederick Forsyth, Len Deighton and Dick Francis -- not to mention Sue Townsend's Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, a humorous novel which is indisputably the season's most popular book in Britain. The only “literary” novel which has moved ahead of Ballard's on the lists is Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac, this year's Booker Prize winner (described as “a good 18th Century novel” by the Chairman of the Booker judges, Richard Cobb: a damning indictment if ever I heard one).
JGB'S OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 1984 MEDIA COVERAGE...
This listing is continued from the “September” list which I gave in the last newsletter. I very much doubt that it is complete. As I said last time, if anyone knows of any reviews, interviews or substantial mentions which are not on this list I should be most grateful if they could send me cuttings or photocopies.
27) Observer. 30th September and 7th October, pages 16 and 18. Two letters in succeeding issues, headed respectively “Survivors of a Japanese Camp” and “Novel View of Shanghai”. The first comes from Mrs Pamela Battle of Sevenoaks, who takes great exception to JGB's depiction of life in Shanghai: “If he calls it a 'novel' why does he mention so many people by name Dr Ransome was my doctor in Shanghai. Several of my friends were interned in Lunghua and are now alive and well in England.” The second letter comes from Sheila Bovell of Guildford; she agrees with Mrs Battle.
28) London Magazine. October issue. “Yangtse Bends” by Aidan Higgins, a slightly curious review in which he says the novel "makes for a most extraordinary read, the images tumbling over each other in an effort to say it all” (pp 88-90).
29) New Society. 4th October. “Jim's War” by Gillian Tindall, a review in which she says: “The literary tradition is that of Tom Sawyer, the innocent realist whose very lack of preconceptions helps to preserve his sanity. This works wonderfully in the first part of the book... and rather less well later” (pp 18-19).
30) BBC Radio World Service. 9th October. “Meridian” programme. An interview (not heard: mentioned in Bookseller for 6th October).
31) Listener. 11th October. “Letters to the Editor: Internment in Shanghai.” Three letters from old China hands -- Findlay Dunachie of Glasgow, Lesley Chalmers of Stevenage, and Miss D. Fredericks of Oxford, all of whom seem to think that Ballard has betrayed the realities of Shanghai in the early 1940s. The last-named correspondent says: “People were not dying of starvation; so far from being decadent, the British internees were running their own affairs with efficiency and humour; and there was minimal Japanese brutality. In short, no Tenko here” (p 23).
32) Times. 11th October. “Hot and Colditz,” an entry in the “Diary” column referring to the letters in the Listener: “Ballard's editor at Gollancz, Malcolm Edwards, says charges that Ballard had sensationalized history to make money showed 'a complete ignorance of Ballard's career'. He was aiming at 'a fictional, metaphorical truth'” (p 12).
33) Economist. 13th October. “The Booker Stakes: Horses for Courses,” an anonymous article on the Booker Prize nominees. Says of the Ballard novel: “It is as an imaginative feat that this book is impressive, not as a piece of social history... This, of all the novels, is the one that stays in the mind” (pp 92,95).
34) Mail on Sunday. 14th October. “Ballard's War is the Trump Card” by David Hughes, an article on the Booker competition, in which he says of the JGB novel: “This is my choice to carry off the prize. It's a big unique book with no writers in it. For the sake of literature, let it win” (pp 42-43).
35) Sunday Times. 14th October. “Backroom Girls Behind the Booker” by Compton Miller, an article on the women editors, agents, etc., who stand behind the Booker nominees. Reveals that Gollancz paid a £25,000 advance for Empire of the Sun, and names it as the Booker favourite. Quotes JGB's agent, Maggie Hanbury: “I'm slightly worried that the judges may now go against it because it's the front runner” (p 38).
36) Sunday Express. 14th October. “Not the Best for the Booker” by Graham Lord, a short dissenting article on the Booker line-up. Describes the Ballard as “a cold, remote, oddly lifeless and unconvincing book, and certainly not the best of the six finalists” (p 6).
37) BBC Radio 4. 14th October. “Bookshelf” programme: an interview conducted by Hunter Davies (approx. 20 minutes, in the evening).
38) Guardian. 17th October. Leader column and short entry in “Diary” column by Alan Rusbridger. The Leader is entitled “A Lark in a Tall Tree,” and it comments on the Booker Prize, saying “J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun stands favourite because it is the only one of the six which isn't about writers and the preoccupation of writing. We have absolutely no wish to put a spoke in Mr Ballard's excellent wheel. But the Booker has become, amongst other things, a literary fun and game, and it would be nice occasionally if the laurels went to a fun and gamester: Penelope Lively, or Julian Barnes, or (from joyous choice) David Lodge.” Rusbridger quotes the opinions of various publishers as to who should win: Ballard is still the hot favourite (pp 12, 17).
39) Channel Four TV. 17th October. “A Plus Four” programme: interview conducted by Mavis Nicholson, approx 4.15-4.45 pm.
40) Time Out. 18th October. “Prize Jerks” by Richard Rayner; an article criticizing the Booker shortlist (written before the announcement of the winner, it made remarkably timely reading the next day). Rayner believes “there is one outstanding novel among the short-listed six, J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun... All in all, however, it's a dull, dull prospect this year... To say all this is to mean no disrespect to the probable winner. Empire..., a powerful and haunting account..., would be worthy of the prize even if pitted against the strongest of shortlists. But there's something ironic, not to mention condescending, in the way that Ballard, for so long one of our leading writers, yet for so long an outsider, is now being welcomed into the fold by the critical establishment because he used to play with a puzzling little toy, SF, but has now grown up. No one was in a hurry to put Crash or The Unlimited Dream Company, both major novels of the 1970s, on any Booker shortlist... Ballard should win, there's no doubt about it. But it remains a possibility that the likes of Ballard, Carter, Moorcock, Amis, Burgess, will never win the Booker Prize; if they don't, it's only because the Booker, a constipated prize in search of an enema, doesn't deserve them” (p 25).
41) Channel Four TV. 18th October. “Book Four Special: The Booker Prize.” The award ceremony broadcast live, plus a brief interview with JGB conducted by Hermione Lee and critical comments on the novels by a studio panel consisting of Peter Ackroyd, Malcolm Bradbury and Germaine Greer (all of whom opined that Ballard should win; Germaine Greer was particularly vehement about it -- see her comments quoted in the Gollancz advert which I have reproduced on the first page of this newsletter).
42) Guardian. 19th October. “Booker Prize Awarded to a 6-1 Outsider,” a report by John Ezard, with added comments by W. L. Webb: “Hotel du Lac is an elegant and fashionable, though not untroubled, comedy... This is not, however, a novel of unique and original vision, as is Ballard's Empire of the Sun... It looks as if the Booker judges have reacted perversely to the strong tide that had been running in Ballard's favour at Ladbroke's and in the general pre-award comment" (p 1).
43) Scotsman. 20th October. “Ballard Unmasked” by Ian Bell, a review in which he says: "Ballard has been writing science fiction of rare quality for close on 30 years yet only now, with the seedy carnival of the Booker prize, is he taken seriously... The question is not whether Ballard deserved the Booker prize for his novel but whether the Booker list deserved Ballard. For this fine, haunting and disturbing book the recognition, such as it is, is deserved and long-overdue" (p ?).
44) Spectator. 20th October. “Shanghaied” by Harriet Waugh, a silly review in which she concludes: “I think 13-year-olds would like it” (p 31).
45) Observer. 21st October. “A New Start in Life for Miss Brookner” by Hermione Lee, a post-mortem on the Booker result: “I think the wrong book was chosen this year... The more ambitious choice would have been Ballard's Empire of the Sun. It wasn't just hype that made this the universal favourite. The novel is brilliant and extraordinary... The word 'important' always sounds pompous and windy; still, I think it is an important novel, and will last... I think our biggest national book award ought to celebrate what's troublesome, flamboyant and marginal as well as what's restrained, classical and good mannered. Is it time for an Alternative Booker?” (p 10).
46) San Francisco Sunday Chronicle. 21st October. “The Story of a Child at War” by Henry Mayer, a review of the American edition which is rather grudging in its praise (p ?).
47) Sunday Times. 21st October. “How 'Modest Anita' Won a Literary Lottery” by Stephen Pile, an eye-witness account of the Booker ceremony which includes some behind-the-scenes chat: “Empire of the Sun, Gollancz's hot favourite, was universally referred to as The Ballard... On the far table was J. G. Ballard looking sweet-natured and confident... Here it was: The Shock Decision. Disbelief shot across the faces of Barnes, Ballard and Brookner. There was a split second's silence while hysterical indignation grew in the defeated Gollancz camp. Even Tom Maschler, chairman of the victorious Cape, was certain that The Ballard had won... This is what happened: When the judges met, Penelope Lively was discarded immediately. Second to go was The Ballard, who had no supporters whatever apart from Ted Rowlands, the Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil... Cobb wanted Desai. Polly Devlin wanted Brookner. John Fuller... and Anthony Curtis did not immediately reveal their hands. Flaubert's Parrot was a favourite with all but did not inspire the passionate support which a winner seems to need. Cobb and Rowlands were switching to their second choice, David Lodge, when Polly Devlin waxed passionate on the subject of the Dutch painter Vermeer. Her line was: there may only be a table, a chair and a cloth in it, but a Vermeer painting is still good stuff, and Anita Brookner is the novel's equivalent. Cobb was swayed and Fuller came out in his true colours. Three-two. The pope was chosen” (p 5).
48) Channel Four TV. 21st October. “Book Four” programme: an interview conducted by Hermione Lee, 4.15-4.40 pm approx.
49) BBC 2 TV. 24th October. “Bookmark” programme: an interview conducted by Ian Hamilton, including brief interviews with other inmates of Lunghua Camp (all of them disagreeing with Ballard's view of things, natch), 8.10-8.30 pm approx.
50) Daily Telegraph. 25th October. “Acting for All” by Richard Last, a review of the previous evening's “Bookmark” programme: “Top marks to 'Bookmark' ... for grasping the nettle of the credibility of J. G. Ballard, nonwinner of the Booker Prize... Interviews with former inmates... revealed Ballard's horrific boyhood recollections to be largely fiction.”
51) International Herald Tribune. 26th October. “Books” by John Gross, a review which appears to be a reprint from the New York Times: "The detail of life both in the city and in the camp is brilliantly rendered by Ballard... At one level this is a classic adventure story -- Jim could be a descendant of Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. At another level it sets out to raise large issues and stir deep feelings, and for the most part it succeeds remarkably well. Toward the end, when he makes Jim start brooding about World War III, Ballard editorializes too much, but that is the only real weakness in an outstanding novel (p 18).
52) Bookseller. 27th October. “Booker Prize: More Problems of Success,” an anonymous leading article giving various booksellers' reactions to the Booker result: “the majority opinion among booksellers seems to be that, in sales potential, the Brookner was way behind the Ballard. 'I was very disappointed in the winner. From a commercial point of view it is a pretty disastrous choice,' says Barbara Buckley of Bowes & Bowes. 'Empire of the Sun would have had a great sale up to Christmas; now it will not sell half as many as it could have'.” Nevertheless the article reports that Gollancz's print run on the novel is now “95,000 copies (including a book club deal); this week trade sales stood at 26,000 copies” (pp 1754-1755).
53) Time Out. 1st November. Untitled review by Matthew Hoffman of Re/Search 8/9, the special issue devoted to Ballard. It gives the wrong price, “£3.50” when it should be more like £8.50, and indicates that Rough Trade are distributing it in Britain when in fact it is being distributed over here by a company called Airlift (14 Baltic Street, London EC1). States: “The magazine has been edited with a rare combination of devotion and intelligence and has been designed with equal imagination” (p 35).
54) New York Review of Books. 9th-22nd November. “Prisoners and Pornographers” by D. J. Enright, a review of Empire... together with D. M. Thomas's Swallow. Praises the Ballard novel, though has a few reservations about the style: “But these are minor objections to a truly impressive book, in human importance far exceeding Ballard's previous work” (pp 45-?46).
55) New Republic. 12th November. “A Boy and His War” by Paul Fussell, a rather negative review -- after a long plot summary he complains about Ballard's use of the word “fester” and objects to some of his more way-out imagery (pp 46-48).
56) BBC Radio 3. 17th November. “Critics Forum” programme, with chairman Paul Bailey and critics Waldemar Januszczak, Helen McNeil and Alexander Walker. A fine discussion of Ballard's novel, notable for the high level of praise which the four participants come out with: Bailey “a book of really startling power and impressiveness”; Walker “a masterpiece... the fact that it didn't get the Booker Prize is deplorable... Ballard has a cinematic imagination of the very highest quality”; Januszczak “a terrifyingly honest novel”; McNeil “I'm very glad we agree on the stature of this book, because I think it does rank with Stevenson and Dickens in its depiction of a child mind dealing with circumstances over which the child has no control...” (6.20-6.35 pm approx.)
57) Guardian. 29th November. “Lately Prized” by W. L. Webb, the announcement of the Guardian Fiction Prize from which I quote on the first page of this newsletter; also “An Educated Eye for Atrocity,” a profile/interview conducted by Webb (pp 9, 14).
That's all for now. Thanks to all those people who sent me material -- especially Vale, Tom Frick, Rob Freeth and Gordon Wood...
A REVIEW OF 'EMPIRE OF THE SUN' -- BY K. V. BAILEY
A key to the essential nature of this novel can be found in two sentences occurring when Jim sits through the night with the dying Maxted while “the rapid flashes of the air-raids filled the Stadium, and dressed the sleeping prisoners in their shrouds.” Jim “knew that he was awake and asleep at the same time, dreaming of the war and yet dreamed of by the war.” What may seem to be, as the jacket blurb contends, “a radical departure from J. G. Ballard's previous fiction” turns out to be not such a departure at all, but vintage Ballard -- a novel much concerned with dream and hallucination: realism filtered through the imagination of a great fantasist. Those experiences of fantasy, typified by the light-created shrouds, often have specific psycho-physical stimuli in the toxicity of disease and starvation; but for Jim, the free but imprisoned spirit, these are secondary factors. His imaginings activate and shape the narrative. He is the boy who fantasizes that he has started the war by semaphoring to the Idzumo, and that his death might end the war, and whose quest for his parents is sustained by a treasured photograph of two anonymous surrogates outside Buckingham Palace.
I found myself at times comparing Ballard and Dickens. At a psychologically realistic level both draw on adolescent trauma, but there is a more significant complementarity on the plane of fantasy -- Dickens, a realistic novelist in whose work fantasy continually surfaces; Ballard, basically a fantasist obsessed by real landscapes and artefacts. In areas of hallucinatory imagery and animistic metaphor their talents meet. In Dombey and Son, for example, the arriving railway engines “bubbling and trembling there, making the walls quake, as if they were dilating with the secret knowledge of great powers yet unsuspected” stem from an imagination akin to that which makes Jim drink in the smell of engine coolant and oil and self-identify with the energy of flight. The gallery of action-arrested frozen dead at the St Bernard Pass in Little Dorrit is in the same vein as the life-assuming semi-disinterred bodies of Ballard's chapter “The Cemetery Garden” “restless sleepers struggling beneath their brown quilts.” The title of this chapter, like that of others (“The Drained Swimming Pool,” “A Landscape of Airfields”) could be that of a Ballard short story. It is a bizarre pastoral on the themes of life and decay, of decomposition and nutrition. Like many other chapters it rounds off almost with the closure of a short story, but while being episodic it contributes its painful quota to the novel's total content of rats and humans, the ubiquity of flies, corpse-disposal and the imagery of resurrection.
Such leit-motifs link the novel's chapters, but, perhaps because it follows a historical and semi-autobiographical course, Empire of the Sun remains more episodic, less structured around central quest or apocalypse, than other recent Ballard novels; and it eventually tails off into a bitter conclusion -- the return to “civilization” in the ambience of continuing war. In doing so it avoids any easy sentiment, blunts euphoria, but also, oddly, dulls an achieved catharsis. It portrays a transition I have myself known after years in Japanese railway labour camps, involving feelings of mixed relief and disbelief, disorientation at the simultaneous disappearance of guards and fences and the appearance of inexhaustible cornucopiae, and a dawning disillusion at finding still remote what Ballard in his first novel calls “the forgotten paradises of the reborn sun.” Those familiar with The Drowned World, and with the body of Ballard's work, will recognize the irony of his current novel's title; will realize too that the Yangtze and the Triassic Sea lap the shores of many intervening worlds and landscapes. Mud-sodden London and Lunghua Camp are aspects of the same downbeat vision. Empire of the Sun ends with a cyclic rather than an upbeat image: the tide-carried, flower-garlanded coffin endlessly washed to the city and rejected. To find the reverse of this, the upbeat version of Ballard's “resurrection” theme, turn to the last paragraphs of The Unlimited Dream Company and Hello America -- and in the latter equate Las Vegas with the “terrible city” of Empire of the Sun, twin symbols of Ballard's particular waste land.
I feel compelled to follow up my review with a further note written after viewing the “Bookmark” TV item. It seemed to me that poor Ballard was rather put on the spot by a not too perceptive interviewer and his band of happy prisoners all apparently intent on getting Ballard to admit that the book is no more than a failed and fallacious documentary. In our estimate and recollection, they seemed to say, Lunghua was just a merry holiday home, with plenty of promiscuous sex, no forced marches,. no starvation, no deaths, no meagre burials!
In fact Ballard's portrayal of all these things -- as I certainly experienced them in Thailand -- is graphic and not inaccurate; but they are jigsaws and extrapolations, happenings real, contemplated and projected, as seen through the strange, hallucinatory and distorting lenses of the imagination. That is how some novelists, particularly novelists of fantasy, work. As he himself tried, not entirely effectively, to say, he wrote a novel the images of which in part derived from a continuous war film of the mind.
I was interested to note that Ballard himself was conscious of the parallels between Empire of the Sun and The Drowned World -- parallels which had struck me so forcibly; but really this latest book needs to be viewed in the context of his entire output, fictions which are basically concerned with interior and symbolic landscapes having certain, possibly limited, possibly exaggerated, relationships with the world of outer experiences. It's a pity that the BBC couldn't come up with a programme of some critical depth designed to make this essential point.
-- Kenneth Bailey, Alderney, Channel Islands
I read Empire of the Sun a week ago. It is super, of course, and the added impact of being here when I read it is hard to imagine. While the city has changed vastly (if the map in the flyleaf is anything to go by both of the camps have now been absorbed by the city proper, and, of course, all the street names have been changed) it is possible to feel the old city overlaying the new after reading Empire. The old houses in the French Concession are still standing and are in various public uses, and the street life of the city remains vibrant although without the acute horrors and poverty the book describes. Indeed, reading the book explains the tremendous loyalty of the Chinese to their revolution. Their lives are immeasurably better today. I have not travelled in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, but I would also wager that the life here is far more colourful and varied than in those countries. Poor but happy, alive, energetic, friendly and vibrant with a sense of purpose that makes the wrangles in our countries look like decadence. Moreover, anyone can walk any of the streets in safety any time.
... we were here for the 35th anniversary fireworks and formal reception by the City of Shanghai. Consider, David, this city has one sixth the population of Britain. Melons carved in the shape of boats, fish whose eyes lit up, and just teeming tables of food. We eat well enough anyway because we have such high salaries by Chinese standards, and because we have an ayeh (pronounced IE), a servant who cooks for us, washes and does housework. She costs a stunning £12 a month to work 6-day weeks, and only our capitalist guilt gets her out of here on Saturdays at 1500 hours so we can cook our own dinner for a change. She also does the marketing, etc., and she really knows how to get in there and scream for the good stuff...
... JGB's novel is now being read by Xiao Zhang, our Chinese interpreter and the man who takes care of all the arrangements for our family. He was born after 1949, but my Professor Li, my immediate superior, was bombed by the Japanese in the 1930s at Chengdu and retains bitter memories of those cruel times.
-- Peter Brigg, currently resident in Shanghai
Dear Mr David Pringle:
The sample of JGB News which you sent me deeply moved me. It is no exaggeration to say this, for Ballard is my favourite writer. His latest novel, Empire of the Sun, should come out in Japan. From 1931 to 1945 Japan treated continental China in the offensive way, and our people never have to forget this. It is Ballard that made me being interested in sf. As I was 13 years old (1973), I concentrated upon the pages of The Crystal World. He enlightened to me science fiction as the outstanding imaginative and speculative literature.
-- Yoshiyuki Tanaka, Osaka, Japan
I regretfully inform you of an omission in your coverage of JGB's September coverage: Private Eye number 594 (21st September) quotes him in Pseuds Corner (p 8) -- the Interzone bit about adolescent women's pudenda. Hope you will severely chastise the miscreant responsible for this outrage. The following issue treats JGB very kindly indeed in the Booker context, referring to him as Jim Gentleman (or Gentleman Jim) Ballard. “The prize must go to the only major author on the list, Jim Gentleman Ballard, albeit for his most convention?al and generally acceptable novel...” (number 595, p 6).
-- David Langford, Reading, Berkshire
I wonder who the “miscreant” can be, Dave. I bet he's one of the many Interzone subscribers who live in Reading... Actually, attention from Private Eye must prove that Ballard has really “arrived” at long last.
REVIEW OF 'LE DERNIER COMBAT' -- JOSEPH NICHOLAS
Luc Besson's Le Dernier Combat looks at first like any other post-holocaust adventure film: lone survivor eking out an existence in an abandoned office block, scavenging whatever he can to keep himself going. But then he steps outside the building, and we can see that it is half-buried in an apparently endless desert -- a scene immediately reminiscent of some of the images in Hello America. As, indeed, the next scene is reminiscent of images from other Ballard works: a “tribe” of ex-urbanites camped out in a cluster of rusting cars (most of which, on closer examination, prove to be American).
But although a great many of its images and a certain amount of its ambience remind one of Ballard's works, the film is not specifically Ballardian in intent, since the plot -- such as it is, and at some points it fails altogether -- is less concerned with attempts to adapt to entropy and disaster than with a struggle to rebuild some sort of functioning civilization. A main theme, though it doesn't emerge until about half way through, is the protagonist's search for female companionship; not to dominate but to liberate, in order that he and she can embark on the reconstruction together... a theme complemented, after a fashion, by the continuing conflict between the protagonist and the over-muscled sword-wielding neo-barbarian who seems to devote most of his time to attempts to break into the hospital to reach (and, it transpires, kill) the woman hidden there by the cowardly doctor who patches the hero up after his first encounter with the muscle-man (and who spends most of his time painting deer and buffalo on the walls of his surgery). The “last battle” of the title clearly refers to the climactic encounter between the protagonist and the muscle-man -- which is suitably savage, and gains extra power from the fact that the muscle-man is beaten to death off-camera -- although this isn't the last battle in the film: returning to the desert in the home-made aircraft by which he escaped to the city earlier on, the protagonist kills the tyrannical overlord of the car-dwelling tribe... to find that he, like the doctor, has also been hiding away a woman.
Thus all ends on a (rather cliched) note of hope; but this isn't to gainsay the film's overall vigour and ingenuity. Most strikingly, there is no dialogue: the unnamed disaster has robbed everyone of their ability to speak. Too, the film has been shot entirely in black and white, which enhances the gloom and devastation of the landscape. And there are moments of pure absurdist humour, such as the rain storm that brings with it a Fortean fall of fish; initially amusing, but the amusement is turned against the audience in the very next scene, showing the hero methodically collecting the fish that have fallen in the courtyard of his building -- for later consumption. Nor are such moments wholly alien to Ballard's work...
But to view Le Dernier Combat in solely Ballardian terms is really rather invidious -- Besson may borrow images here and there, and may indeed seek to remind his audience specifically of Ballard at certain points, but is otherwise his own man with his own ideas, his own messages, his own concerns. Considering its meagre budget, the film is something of a minor triumph: by no means perfect but certainly original.
JGB TOPS 'OBSERVER' NON-POLL
Since typing the bulk of this issue I've seen the Observer for 2nd December. The feature entitled “Books of the Year,” in which 39 writers and critics are asked to name their favourite books of 1984, contains several mentions of Ballard. In fact, his Empire of the Sun emerges as the clear winner with a total of eight “votes” -- as against four mentions apiece for Kingsley Amis's Stanley and the Women, Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot, Tony Harrison's Selected Poems and Craig Raine's Rich. Peter Ackroyd's T. S. Eliot and Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being come next in the pecking order, with three mentions each. Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac gets only one mention (Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus gets two). The eight people who commend Ballard are: Stephen Spender, John Gross, Philip French, Paul Bailey, Lorna Sage, Gavin Ewart, Salman Rushdie and Anthony Thwaite.
BIG REPRINT PROGRAMME FROM GRANADA
Those of you who saw the “A Plus 4” television interview with Ballard will have seen the covers of several of his forthcoming paperbacks flashed across your screen. I believe Crash is due imminently from Granada, with the following titles coming from the same publisher over the next six months or so:
January: The Day of Forever; February: The Venus Hunters; March: High-Rise; April: The Drought and The Crystal World; May: Low-Flying Aircraft; June: Concrete Island; July: The Disaster Area.
I believe that all the cover paintings for the above are by James Marsh (who also did the covers for Dent's The Terminal Beach and Granada's Myths of the Near Future).
J. M. Dent will be publishing Vermilion Sands, the last Ballard title to which they have the rights, in March 1985. It has a striking cover illustration by Grizelda Holderness (who also did the cover for The Voices of Time). Soon, almost the whole of JGB's output will be available simultaneously in handsome quality-paperback format: This is surely one of the most significant results of the huge success enjoyed by Ballard's latest novel.
JGB's latest piece of non-fiction, “Autopia or Autogeddon,” is a review of three books about the history of the automobile -- published in the Guardian on 29th November 1984. Thomas Frick has kindly sent me a xerox of a couple of pages from Christopher Lasch's new book, The Minimal Self (published by Norton, USA), and -- guess what? -- it's all about Burroughs and Ballard (Lasch is best known for his book of a couple of years ago, The Culture of Narcissism). Terry Dowling has just sent me a big bundle of stuff from Australia -- no time to describe it here, I'm afraid -- and I'm very grateful to him. Joseph Nicholas has also given me an Australian booklet, Notes on J. G. Ballard by John Foyster, published in 1977! (Unfortunately, Foyster is very anti-Ballard so I don't know why he bothered writing the damned thing and why anybody bothered publishing it.)
This will probably be the last JGB News for quite some time. I'm deep in the writing of a book on sf at the moment. Happy New Year!