Friday, 8 July 2011

Crash by JG Ballard REVIEWED

I'm a fan of controversial books. Therefore, thought I upon hearing of 1973's Crash, which explores a subculture of people who become sexually obsessed with car crashes, I must read this. (Now that's a sentence with words in an order wrongly put.) Anyway, I did just that. Would you like to know my opinions on it? Good.

Crash is, to be blunt, a badly written book. Written in a highly sensationalistic manner, the novel obsesses over its graphic descriptions of hundreds of in-car sexual acts to such an extent that the novel can be little else. There is not much character development, except in the case of Vaughan, the former TV producer who befriends the narrator James and introduces him to symphorophilia (yes, it has a name), who we see deteriorating into a state similar to drug addiction. The other characters, few though they are, have no roles to speak off - they are simply fucked and then forgotten about.

In terms of its ideas and concepts, Crash is in fact very interesting. The interplay between sexuality and technology in modern society may be rather overplayed by Ballard, but it is certainly a significant issue and one dealt with well by the book. Similarly, the hyperreal sense of a blurring of fiction and reality - Vaughan's greatest desire is to die in a collision with the film actress Elizabeth Taylor - is very strong, and one of the most visited themes within Ballard's work. All this is very good.

But the style of the novel, rather than leading to an exploration of the reader's own morality as was intended, seems only to bore and desensitise. Not helped by his constant repetition of the graphic description of sexual acts, Ballard's writing seems to ooze over the page (sorry...!) and the ultimate effect approaches the soporific. Similarly, the thematic assertions of the work are almost ridiculously overstated.On almost every page, Ballard draws a connection between the shape of cars and the form of the human body, in both being sexualised and made into art - I don't think I've ever read the word "stylization" more often.

Overall, Crash is valuable to all fans of dystopia and sci-fi horror as an exploration of the dark side of our advertisement visions of sexuality and technology. But the disengaging style, while ostensibly in order to make the reader complicit in the amorality of the story, serves only to bore them to such an extent that they don't actually care what happens.


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