Monday, 2 May 2011

Empire of the Sun

JG Ballard

You can't read everything. Trying to would be like visiting every village in Norfolk -- you'd stop hanging around for long, you'd concentrate on passing through as quickly as possible. Then someone would show you a map of England, and your heart would sink. Then you'd find an atlas of the world. Scary.

And because you can't read everything, you have to spend some brainpower deciding what to invest your time in. Certain genres are ruled out, at the probable cost of many great books; certain authors sound oddly appealing, others are intuitively ignored. Specific books are tried, and the rest of the author's canon may depend on the success or failure of that book.

So when I found myself frustrated by Ballard's The Drought, I naturally asssumed it was curtains for the rest of his ouvre, regardless of the beautiful covers and unique reviews. But another complicating factor came into play: blog comments. Ballard was ardently defended by his fans, in the face of my criticisms. And as I had Empire of the Sun sitting on my shelf, a second chance for JG didn't seem entirely out of the question.

Well. I am now a fully paid-up member of The Second Chance Club (except for the paid-up part). Empire of the Sun paints a vivid picture of the incoherent, chaotic and arcless nature of a world at war, and the fragments of order held disproportionately dear to those caught in the middle; and it shows all that by being all that. As Jim slowly adapts himself to the war world, the book follows. Its own past becomes irrelevant, its own future becomes a tool to keep heads up in the present.

The symbollism that so bothered me in Ballard's earlier novel is here a more succesful, subservient player. Jim's vain struggle for sense in the senseless world is aptly illustrated by patterns and parrallels that are not really there, that lead nowhere, or that only feedback onto themselves, endlessly.

The lesson here is not only to allow second chances; but to stick up for the authors you love, to argue and insist and enthuse enough that our friends and lovers and colleagues give them another go. I'm left wondering how many friends have left Pratchett by the wayside because they read The Colour of Magic first...


  1. I'm glad you gave the guy a second chance! This is a fantastic book! Maybe I oughta give more authors a second chance - but there's always the danger of wasting even more precious time.

  2. The Drought is not the greatest place to begin with Ballard (neither is The Atrocity Exhibition). I strongly suggest you Kingdom Come, which I think is the last novel he wrote before he died. Very intense.

  3. @ Bethany: true, there's always a risk involved with second chances. But when people love an author enough to insist on one, that lowers the risk factor.

    @ Ben: I think I definitely started in the wrong place with Ballard. Kingdom Come is now on my Amazon Wishlist.