Thursday, 6 January 2011
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.