Review: ‘Crash’ by J. G. Ballard

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Thursday, September 30, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Title: Crash

Author: J. G. Ballard

Published: Vintage, 2004, pp. 224

Genre: General fiction

Blurb: In this hallucinatory novel, the car provides the hellish tableau in which Vaughan, a ‘TV scientist’, experiments with erotic attrocities among crash victims, each more sinister than the last.  Ultimately, he craves a union of blood, semen and engine coolant in a head-on collision with Elizabeth Taylor.

When, where and why: When I was at university there would often be a stand in the English department building selling copies of the Guardian along with various free gifts, and this book happened to be one of them.  As such, it definitely counts towards my Books Off the Shelf 2010 challenge, and is book 21/50.  It might sound odd, but I read this book now because I was fairly sure I wasn’t going to like it but I can’t get rid of books without having read them, so I wanted to get it out of the way so that I could pass it on to someone else.

What I thought: It’s quite difficult to review this book because, while I thought it was absolutely horrible to read, I get the feeling that that was exactly what I was supposed to react.  If my response to hadn’t been one of visceral revulsion then Ballard wouldn’t have been making his point about fiction, reality and desire.  Nonetheless, I found this a thoroughly unpleasant book and not an enjoyable read at all.  This was what I was expecting, but then I started reading A Clockwork Orange with the same preconceptions but was brought round by the impressive writing and message.  Crash had none of these redeeming features, in my opinion.

Leaving aside the twisted, horrible subject matter, I wasn’t convinced by the writing in this novel.  I appreciate that there are only so many ways to describe and refer to bits of car, horrific injuries and parts of the body, but it didn’t take long for this book to feel very repetetive and static.  A lot of the vocabulary comes up numerous times within the same paragraph even, and the word ‘stylised’ was particularly overused.  Consequently, it feels as though this novel never goes anywhere, but just replays the same scenes over and over again.

There is a similar lack of progression in the characters.  Ballard is so set on being shocking and perverse that the characters behave in such a  fashion from the outset of the novel.  The narrator associates car crashes with sex and takes an erotic pleasure in imagining the wounds of the victims even at the very beginning of the book when he first crashes his car.  His wife also responds in a sexual manner to road accidents once she is introduced to the idea, and even before this neither are very pleasant characters.  This being the case, there is no sense of character development or, more accurately, devolution as they descend into increased depravity.  None of the characters were in any way likeable or relateable, which I think weakened the premise that this isn’t simply a pornographic novel but one with a higher message: if I can’t identify with anyone in it, how am I supposed to see that this is relevant to my life?  Nonetheless, it must take guts to cast a fictional version of oneself as the narrator/main character in a novel as twisted as this, so kudos to Ballard for that.

Where this book goes: This book is in an envelope winging its way to Australia to make another reader happy.  J. G. Ballard is a popular writer, and this book was requested within half an hour of posting it on BookMooch.  I’m glad to be rid of it and glad it’s found a good home.

Tea talk: I’m being very boring with my tea choices at the moment, and I’m back to the Milk Oolong which I love so much.  I recommend it to any tea lovers.

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