domingo, 27 de abril de 2008

Kingdom Come by J. G. Ballard

Kingdom Come by J. G. Ballard is not a successful book. Richard Brown is an advertising executive who has been estranged from his father for some time. Whilst the son has been in sophisticated London, the father has lived in Brooklands, an M25 town whose occupants, though bored to the core, know what they like. Above all, they like consumerism and, because of that, they like their Metro-Centre, a vast shopping mall that people actually worship. They also despise the stuck up sophisticates who live in London. And so J. G. Ballard begins by constructing a model of contemporary British society, whose addiction to mass market products now borders on denying any alternative a right to exist, especially anything with intellectual content.

But there has been a problem. An apparently random shooting in the Metro-Centre has left Richard Pearson’s father dead. Richard has thus arrived from the nearby metropolis that might as well be a different planet, to find out what has happened. He finds a town divided, where gangs of sports fans wear St. George cross shirts and divide their time between drinking, shopping and beating up members of ethnic minorities. They like contact sports.

What ensues is a riot, of sorts, a political revolt, of sorts, and a conspiracy, of sorts. What J. G. Ballard appears to be trying to do is make comments on the nature of consumer Britain, its lack of values, its non-entity identity, its apparent praise of brainlessness, its resentment of anything that is non-mass market, its latent, incipient fascism. But the book fails.

The characterisation is weak throughout. The only person to make an impression is David Cruise, a presenter who fronts the Metro-Centre television channel, who becomes something of a fascist leader, midway between Big Brother and a Sky newsreader. But even his character is tame where it could be surreal, lapdog where it might be threatening. Coincidence upon coincidence casts Richard Pearson as his former adman, a status that gets Richard into the inside, a position he hopes will reveal who killed his father.

But the book’s most serious weakness, apart from an empty and thoroughly confused plot, is its complete lack of a character inside the mob. The reader is constantly reminded of the hordes of sports fans who riot and fight in defence of their beloved retail park, but we never meet one. We do have an analyst who describes their collective destruction obsession as elective psycopathy. We have Asian neighbours who get set alight, but we never really get inside the mobs, never understand their motives. Perhaps they don’t have a motive. Perhaps that’s the point, but, if it is, it fails to register.

And so the occupation of the shopping mall continues. We have riots, hostages, killings, shootings, attacks. We have mass hysteria, boredom, rampant consumerism and ice hockey. But in the end the experience is as vacuous as the Metro-Centre’s dome. The police officers, the headmaster, the Metro-Centre administrators, in fact everyone in the book, even Julia the doctor who seems occasionally to do something human, they all reveal themselves as duplicitous, confused, scheming, disloyal and, worst of all, flat. Meanwhile the mob just continues its collective anonymity. A charitable review might suggest that this was Kingdom Come’s point, but it would be taking charity too far.

View this book on amazon
Kingdom Come

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