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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 6 November 2017

"The Unlimited Dream Company" by J G Ballard

For all we know, vices in this world may well be metaphors for virtues in the next.” (p 64)

Ballard set this book in his home town of Shepperton, a small suburban town on the outskirts of London, on the banks of the Thames, near Heathrow Airport and famous principally for its film studios (although writers Thomas Love Peacock and George Meredith lived here long before JGB himself). One wonders what his neighbours make of lines such as “I wanted to celebrate the light that covered the still drowsing town, spill my semen over the polite fences and bijou gardens, burst into the bedrooms where these account executives and insurance brokers lazed over their Sunday papers and copulate at the foot of their beds with their night-sweet wives and daughters.” (p 55)

A young man, Blake, steals a light airplane from Heathrow Airport and crash-lands it in the Thames. Trapped in the plane, burned and drowned, he is brought back to life by a young doctor, witnessed by her mother and a fossil-collecting priest. The young man has to flee from the police but discovers that, like so many ghosts, he is trapped in the town: when he tries to row across the river it grows larger, the same thing happens when he tries to cross the bridge of the meadow. He discovers that his death or near-death experience has left him incredibly randy: he can scarcely see anyone, man, woman, or child, without wanting to rape them. And in the night he dreams that he turns into a bird and all the residents of this suburban town have birds hatched from their brain and he flies with all of them in the night sky and tries to copulate with all of them.

This is an extraordinary book.

Reminding us of Ovid's Metamorphoses (“I had been casually banished to some remote Black Sea port and given the right to make the stones on the beach sing to me.” p 141) the young man changes into birds, into a whale, into a rutting stage. Masturbating furiously he splashes his semen around the town; plants spring from this strange seed and soon Shepperton is a jungle. He teaches the townfolk to fly by absorbing them into his body in a cannibalistic reinterpretation of holy communion and then releasing them into the air; sinisterly there are some he keeps inside himself (“I felt his strong bones anneal themselves to my own, his blood vent its bright tide into my veins, the semen of his testicles foam as it dashed in a torrent against mine. ... The last motes of his self fled through the dark arcades of my bloodstream, down the sombre causeways of my spinal column” p 149) and this is what forms his nourishment. Symbolically this happens principally at the War Memorial, as if Ballard is suggesting that society feeds on the dead bodies of its own children killed in wars. Other religious motifs include Blake's spell as a faith healer and his death and resurrection at least once. It would be blasphemous, given the intense sexual overtones to this work, to suggest that Blake is in many ways Jesus but there seem to be parallels.

But fly as they might he and the townfolk are trapped within the town. What is left but a repudiation of materialism and a wave of wife-swapping and incest that turns into a Shepperton-wide orgy.

But there are some people seemingly immune from Blake's magic. The attractive young doctor he so desires. Three children, one blind, one lame and one a mongol. And his nemesis Stark.

Utterly imaginative and utterly bizarre: it was like a William Burroughs novel (try Naked Lunch or The Wild Boys) without the cut up bits. The difficulty with this sort of narrative is that there are only so many times you can describe the sexual act, or metamorphic magic, or being trapped, without repeating yourself. But in the end the wonder of this story is in the poetry of lines such as:

  • Around me the streets are silent in the afternoon light.” (p 2)
  • I see my skin glow like an archangel’s, lit by the dreams of these housewives and secretaries, film actors and bank cashiers as they sleep within me, safe in the dormitories with my bones.” (p 3) 
  • The past ten years of my life had been an avalanche zone.” (p 4)
  • I wanted to mount her like a stallion taking a meadow-rich mare” (p 20)
  • savour the scent of her armpits, save for ever in a phial around my neck the tag of loose skin on her lip.” (p 22) 
  • The everywhere of suburbia, the paradigm of nowhere.” (pp 25 - 26)
  • I was moving among these young women with my loins at more than half cock.” (p 26)
  • The pavements were deserted, the well-tended gardens like miniature memorial parks consecrated to the household gods of the television set and dishwasher.” (p 26)
  • The two women had undressed me with an uncanny sense of physical intimacy, as if they were unveiling a treasure they were about to share.” (p 48)
  • Her gasping mouth was smeared with blood milked from my lips.” (p 51)
  • My semen splashed the windows of the supermarket, streamed across the sales slogans and price reductions.” (p 97) 
  • I saw myself suddenly ... as a brutal shepherd, copulating with his animals as he herded them into their slaughter pens.” (p 97) 
  • I am the fire ... and the earth, air and water.” (p 100)
  • Semen jolted into my palm.” (p 106)
  • I would mount the town itself, transform Shepperton into an instant paradise more exotic than all the television travelogues that presided over their lives.” ( 107)
  • through the narrow aperture of my survival another world was spilling through into this one.” (p 117)
  • The air was a paint-pot of extravagant colours hurled across the sky.” (p 119)
  • In the streets below hundreds of people were waving us back, frightened that we would fly too near to the sun.” (p 129) 
  • Shepperton had become a life engine.” (p 144) 
  • I knew that she would soon move on to that world of which Shepperton was merely a brightly furnished but modest antechamber.” (p 192)
Millennium People (not as weird but with scenes of urban revolution which were quite similar) by J G Ballard is also reviewed in this blog.

This is a breathtaking book both in terms of the beauty of some of its prose and the obsessive eroticism. November 2017; 195 pages

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