Robert Maitland, a 35 year-old architect, is driving home from his London offices when a blow-out sends his speeding Jaguar hurtling out of control. Smashing through a temporary barrier he finds himself, dazed and disoriented, on a traffic island below three converging motorways. But when he tries to climb the embankment or flag-down a passing car for help it proves impossible – and he finds himself imprisoned on the concrete island. Maitland must survive using only what he can find in his crashed car.
There is something mysterious about the setting of Concrete Island, those dead spaces that we all glimpse without a passing thought as we journey somewhere, places where nobody is meant to set foot any more, places hidden, forgotten in plain sight.
When the unfortunate Maitland finds himself accidentally encroaching on this bleak micro world, marooned with just his thoughts and whatever happens to be in his car, it gives him a chance to examine his life from the outside, amongst all the dereliction of his new home and realise just out how lacking his life has been in terms of actual warmth and fulfilment.
Maitland is not a particularly likeable character, whilst the reader can sympathise with his predicament, his thoughts and attitudes meant that although I wanted to see where the story went, I didn’t mind how much the author put him through in the process. Sadism aside, it is interesting to see how the isolation affects Mr M. and how quickly he regresses to a primitive state and he struggles with delirium, injury and his own inner voice questioning whether he has the will or indeed the wish to escape his prison. Beyond that what sort of life is waiting back for him, perhaps not the rich life he led himself to believe he had.
Ballard’s style of language is blunt and to the point, things seem more sinister with their own dangers in these enigmatic spaces, yet to be in such a place – metaphorically – can allow us to view things differently. Our aloneness in the densely populated world, the slow realisation that Maitland as ourselves won’t be saved any time soon, there is something ghoulish almost, in the ease of which it is to fall out of sight of society and yet should we be surprised with the stories of such things frequently on the news?
The story could do with a little editing, despite its shortness but this is a minor gripe when compared to the deeper aspect of the book’s message. Despite being written in the 70’s, it is more relevant these days with that advent of technology and the ability to close ourselves off from those around us. There is, unsurprisingly more to the story than what I have mentioned but to say anything else would to be to deprive you of a few (un)expected twists, the introduction did a good job of spoiling it for me so avoid all that and just dive straight in.