Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Drought

JG Ballard

I find myself desperately wanting to like Ballard. Maybe I should never have read his coolly endearing memoir, Miracles of Life. Maybe I should stop listening to blurbs that use words like 'unique' and genius' so freely and convincingly.

The fact is, however hard I tried to like The Drought, I couldn't quite manage it. It's impressive, yes. The imagery is untouchably weird, the (bad) feelings it evokes are heady and authentic. His writing has natural authority and a certain completeness of vision.


It's not very pleasant.

(If that makes me sound like a narrative coward, I should at this point explain that I am very much a narrative coward. I can't even watch comedy shows on my own these days, because I will chicken out and change the channel the moment things necessarily go bad for the protagonist.)

Ballard's world, effective and unique though it clearly is, is not enjoyable. It's bleak, disconnected, distant, free of relatable characters. Distant strangers do distant things and there's nothing much to suggest I should be interested. I don't think I ever believed -- not really-- in the existence of unrelatable main characters, before this.

Here's an example. This book is about what happens to humanity, and a man called Ransom, when the water supplies we take for granted disappear (hence the name). Ransom spends every second of this book driven by water. Water would solve all his problems. Water would make him in control. Water could do a lot of things for him, yet not once while reading The Drought -- not once! -- did I ever feel thirsty.


  1. Too bad -- it's not actually about water at all... in The Drowned World the water represents the past... in The Drought the aridity represents the future... it's a psychological study symbolized by Ransom's gradual loss of self. The story can also be seen as a creative re-telling of JG's childhood observances in Lunghua camp during WWII.

  2. I agree with Rick. That said, Ballard is not an easy writer.He has a knack for heavy symbolism.

    Also, read "Kingdom Come", you'll change your mind. It's more accessible and it's a fantastic novel.

  3. I was aware of the sybollism before I read it, to be honest, but it made less and less sense to me as I made my way through.

    Maybe I wasn't trying hard enough, but the last thing I wanted to do was delve deeper when the literal level didn't draw me in. It still has to be about water, in the first place. Right?

    I haven't given up on him yet though, not least because you've both leapt to his defence. I have Empire of the Sun sitting on my shelf, and I'll keep an eye out for Kingdom Come.