Crash

Crash - J.G. Ballard I suppose that I should start this by saying that, while a good teaser, the back blurb was not descriptive of my experience with the book for two reasons. First, it describes the book as "hallucinatory". The book, while it contains a scene where the characters are on acid, was certainly surreal, but there was never any question as to what was an illusion and what was not. In fact, there was a strong theme of the changing ways in which we can experience reality and its complex interplay with emotion. Second, the blurb makes it seem that the book is about Vaugn, which it is in the way that a cult-member's book is about the leader, but this book isn't Vaugn's journey, it's the journey of James Ballard (the name of the protagonist) as a person whose interactions with Vaugn have caused him to seek relief of his mental distress in a spectacularly maladaptive way. Like a prion, Vaugn moves through the lives of his fellow car crash participants creating holes and mania.

Thematically this novel gave me feelings that I'm having a hard time articulating. I pity the characters; I understand that frustrating, manic, grasping for meaning in trauma; I looked at the technology around me this morning a little differently; and yet there is still a level on which the actions and feelings of the characters is alien.

Rhetorically, JG Ballard is masterful. He grates at the reader with phrases and images just far enough apart from each other in the text that they wonder if he forgot that he used the same words to describe the same thing last scene and the scene before that. It wasn't until I was raw from it that I saw the places where he didn't repeat images, where his vocabulary is expansive, and I knew that the words were having the desired effect. These phrases and images intruded on me like they intruded on James Ballard--a glitch, a stutter, a neural pathway that wouldn't stop firing.

Note: I picked this up because it is on Guardian's list of Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels. I'm not sure that this belongs on any science fiction or fantasy list. Maybe I missed something. It was odd, it was disturbing, it was stylized (to borrow one of those rhetorical phrases that scraped at me), it held my attention unlike most literary fiction, I can see it appealing particularly to the literary tastes of Philip K Dick fans, but I can't call the story in itself science fiction or fantasy.