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Ninebelow
ninebelow
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February 2013
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Ninebelow [userpic]
Ballardian

A while ago I mentioned I was reviewing Lost Boys by James Miller for Strange Horizons. The review is forthcoming but as an advance preview here is one of the paragraphs that got cut:

At this point let's stop for a moment to look at two over-inflated comparisons Little, Brown are trying to draw with their new author: JG Ballard and Rupert Thomson. We can safely dismiss Ballard. Ballard has now reached the point in his career - edgy elder statesman - where the shadow he casts is so long that if you are a young male British writer and your publisher doesn't compare you to him you should probably be worried. Thomson, on the other hand, is one of the most unsung established writers working in Britain. His career has moved from uniquely Anglo-Saxon magical realism to forensic psychological realism encompassing many interesting places on the way. He has misfired just once, with Divided Kingdom, when he attempted a fable and ended up estranged from any meaningful engagement with the world. And so, although presumably not in the way it was intended, we find the link to Miller.
Obviously the person who cut that paragraph was coalescent and he was right because although it worked when I started writing my thoughts down, in the end it unbalanced the review. It is true though and worth saying here.

Anyway, I'm posting it now because coalescent recently took part in an SF Signal mind meld on writers to watch (related poll here.) One of his picks was:
Will Ashon. First novel Clear Water (2005) is Ballardian satire with meatier bass notes; not everything in it works, but the bits that do are forceful and tough and original. Second novel The Heritage (2008) looks to cover similar, if perhaps even grimier, ground.
Niall isn't alone in suggesting the comparison to Ballard. The first sentence of the Guardian review by James Hawes is "Will Ashon's first novel tries to do for the shopping centre Bluewater what JG Ballard's Super-Cannes did for Cannes."

The thing is I don't think Clear Water is Ballardian and I don't think Ballard is a satirist. Amongst the other things he is doing, Ashon does satirise corporate culture, consumer consumption and commodity fetishisation. None of these are Ballard's concerns though. Ashon's character are marked by painful introspection and self-knowledge, the internal states of Ballard's characters are often as hidden from themselves as the interior worlds of others. There is an exuberance to Ashon's prose and plot that is entirely alien to Ballard's clinical style.

So unless I'm missing something this is another case of reaching for the nearest name, rather than the most appropriate one. Ashon's apocalyptic satire is much more redolent of his contemporaries such as Matthew de Abaitua and Toby Litt than the monolithic Ballard. (Then again Litt is pretty Ballardian.)

Comments

I have just finished 'Death of Murderer' by Rupert Thomson. I had just begun it when I did my 'read this month' post so I only briefly mentioned it. I'll do a proper review. I had never heard of him, but he's a powerful and poetic writer.

I'd be interested in what you think, it is the only one of his I haven't read yet. There is a good overview of this work here if you are interested in reading others.

Ah, thanks, I like what he says about drawing on the unconscious.

I've just read it too, and was going to commment to ask you if you'd got round to it yet.

It's really good. It's hard to say much without giving away the plot, but I think it's probably his best yet. Certainly up there, anyway.

I'd have to disagree about Divided Kingdom, but it's an interesting paragraph nonetheless!

You've just reminded me that all my TAO reviews are now offline so I've started republishing on my LJ, beginning with Divided Kingdom.

I think we read different books, in this instance. But it's definitely an interesting review.

There were some immensely fun and spirited discussions about it in the LBC the quarter we read it.

I agree with you, I don't think that Ballard is in the business of producing Satire. But, having said that, I think it's an easy mistake to make.

I think that traditionally, Britain has quite a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism running through its cultural bedrock and as a result, people tend to feel more comfortable dealing with ideas presented in a funny way than they are dealing with ideas presented earnestly. Britain is proud of its wits, less proud of its intellectuals.

As a result I think it not unreasonable that British authors have a good relationship with the absurd. Ballard's high rise, for example, is a completely serious book about class, tribalism and high-density living and yet it begins with someone eating a dog.

It's no accident that one of Britain's most successful SF shows was Red Dwarf and that our political dramas have never been as insightful as our political comedies.

(Anonymous)

You are right. The comparison to Ballard seems very lazy - "oh, it's about people going mad in a shopping centre, right, Ballard it is then". Never mind that Ballard never, at least to me, seems to satirise the society he caricatures; it doesn't even feel like he's criticising it most of the time.

IMNERHO, probably the strongest claim to the title of heir of Ballard lies with Geoff Manaugh:

http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/

Who seems to gleefully revel in the dehumanised madness of future-shocked urban modernity in much the same way.

-- tom

Tangentially, are you aware of Dan Lockton?

You may be right; I suspect you've read more Ballard than I have. But for what it's worth, though I was probably writing too quickly to get this across properly, I didn't mean that Ballard is predominantly satiric, but that Ashon is satiric with a tone that reminded me of Ballard. I do think they're both interested in alienation (among other things) even if they approach the topic in different ways.

Sorry if I've misread you. I agree with you about alienation but I still think there is a distinct to be drawn between alienation from society and hence the self (Ashon) and alienation from the self and hence society (Ballard). Perhaps you are right and this stems from my (excessive?) reading of Ballard and my sense that he is a uniquely important and powerful writer whose name gets bandied around an awful lot with very little basis.

there is a distinct to be drawn between alienation from society and hence the self (Ashon) and alienation from the self and hence society (Ballard).

That's an interesting distinction which I will have to think about more. And possibly read more Ballard and The Heritage to facilitate the process.

By the way, there is a profile of Ballard in today's Guardian that strongly identifies him as a satirist.

I'll be sorry when he goes old Ballard. Yes he's been re-writing the same book for the last 15 years but it's a very good book.

More like forty five years. It is a very good book though and it is the book that made me an SF reader.