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Concrete Island – J. G. Ballard

19 Jul

BaddardA chilling novel that pays twisted homage to Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’.

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.

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41 Comments

Posted by on 19/07/2015 in Fiction

 

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41 responses to “Concrete Island – J. G. Ballard

  1. shadowoperator

    19/07/2015 at 20:02

    Hi, Ste J. Have you posted on something else by J. G. Ballard before? I seem to remember the name in another connection, though I’ve never read anything of his (?) before. This sort of psychological-sci-fi, though, can be very captivating, I find.

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    • Ste J

      19/07/2015 at 20:45

      I did indeed, that one was The Drowned World which was a nice future thing where as this is nice and current. Reading through the blurbs of his other books he is a very visceral writer and doesn’t hold back on the darker aspects of life which is probably why I like his books.

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  2. Andrea Stephenson

    19/07/2015 at 21:08

    It’s an interesting concept – stranding him somewhere that sounds so mundane, sounds like a good read.

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    • Ste J

      19/07/2015 at 21:11

      The idea of being so close to other people who are oblivious to you is terrible but then there are probably people like this stuck at home all day for whatever reason, feeling the same thing. It makes you think…

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. Jill Weatherholt

    19/07/2015 at 23:43

    Such an interesting premise, Ste J. Nice review.

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    • Ste J

      20/07/2015 at 15:21

      It is, something that could be happening and we would be unaware of it. It does make me see empty spaces with a new fascination.

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  4. renxkyoko

    20/07/2015 at 00:31

    This is quite interesting. It’s something that I’ll read, actually.

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    • Ste J

      20/07/2015 at 15:08

      Yes you must! It is proper British grimness but in a thought provoking way.

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  5. macjam47

    20/07/2015 at 02:55

    Sounds interesting. That cover is very eye-catching!

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    • Ste J

      20/07/2015 at 15:00

      It’s sometimes good to judge a book by its cover, it did swing it for me when deciding which Ballard book to read.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. gargoylebruce

    20/07/2015 at 06:00

    That sounds like a brilliant concept!

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    • Ste J

      20/07/2015 at 15:26

      It’s almost like an anti Shaun Tan, or what would happen if he ‘went wrong’ which would actually be sort of appealing as well.

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  7. Jeff

    20/07/2015 at 09:02

    Sounds very Ballard, if somewhat improbable. It’s hard to see how the emergency services or motorway maintenance authorities couldn’t get to the guy pretty quickly. But let’s not let truth get in the way of a good story! I like the way you draw a parallel between the island and todays’ technological islands and their alienating effects on our lives (or is that vice versa?). I like also your warning about the plot spoilers. The Harper re-releases have all the additional material at the end. I just posted another Ballard piece – this time about The Drowned World – after reading your piece about the same book. I seem to have ended up on a Ballard odyssey courtesy of all those cheap secondhand copies out there.

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    • Ste J

      20/07/2015 at 16:09

      it is described in a plausible enough way which left me without much to be picky about but having watched The Bill for years i know how on the ball our lads and lasses are over such things. I try and avoid all introductions as most seem to assume you have read the book before and don’t mind being reminded about the key areas which ruins my enjoyment either way.

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      • Jeff

        23/07/2015 at 09:51

        I find it depends on the introduction. They’re good for older novels where the cultural references would be alien without some context. At the same time, I often forget much of the intro by the time I’m a chapter in. You can always read the intro afterwards. An ‘outro’.

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        • Ste J

          24/07/2015 at 19:00

          I do tend to either scan the introduction and avoid anything that mentions characters or plot points or just ignore it all together. i find it more fun to do my own research if something puzzles me which then elads me down plenty of different paths I hadn’t considered so it is a win/win situation.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  8. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    20/07/2015 at 20:22

    I may just check this out…it sounds a bit different from the norm which certainly makes it interesting!

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    • Ste J

      21/07/2015 at 17:59

      It is, envisioning being a prisoner so close to oblivious people with just your wits to survive on. The themes about modern society really hit a nerve but aren’t blatant, they play under the surface.

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  9. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    20/07/2015 at 22:31

    Sounds quite interesting. I think you have rightly said that though written in the 70’s, it is more relevant today…
    Nice review… 🙂

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    • Ste J

      21/07/2015 at 17:57

      I have so much respect for authors that look ahead and realise where the world is heading, sadly most of what they envision is at the less pleasant end of the scale.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Chelsea Brown

    21/07/2015 at 02:55

    This sounds like an interesting read, I’m quite interested in what we would do to survive if we were placed in a situation like this; when you’re left all by your lonesome, with only your thoughts.
    Though depending upon the seriousness of the situation and how isolated the person is, it’s interesting to find out how one judges their past, and any mistakes they’ve made, but what’s as equally as intriguing is to note the timeline of the unhinging of a person’s sanity, and what lengths one will go to keep it and try to survive.

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    • Ste J

      21/07/2015 at 18:16

      That descent into madness is always great, especially when the protagonist is thinking about something or seeing something and the reader knows they are unknowingly starting that slide. Introspection is the one thing Maitland can’t escape as he pootles around planning his escape…of course then there are the unexpected things he has to deal with as well…

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Chelsea Brown

        26/07/2015 at 03:28

        The mere thought of constantly examining your mental state/emotional state would send me straight into an anxiety attack. Even though it is only natural to wonder whether or not you might be losing your sanity in a predicament such as his.

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        • Ste J

          26/07/2015 at 08:04

          Not being able to tell and starting to second guess even the most simple of decisions must be horrible, yet entertaining for us readers…what an unfeeling bunch we are taking pleasure in a character’s descent lol.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  11. Lucy

    21/07/2015 at 08:35

    This is on my list, I’ve only read a few of his but ‘High Rise’ stayed with me for weeks after, his work takes me back to time when kids had Grange Hill haircuts, people were allowed to smoke in the rear of buses, and crispy pancakes and crinkle-cut chips from a deep-fat fryer. *shudder*

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    • Ste J

      21/07/2015 at 18:29

      Interestingly High Rise is the third in a ‘kind of trilogy’ as Ballard put it, the other two being Crash and Concrete Island so you know what you’ll be getting. Grange Hill, that was an institution and a half, that Mr Bronson what a memorable chap, i want to be back in that time but reserve the right to avoid anything that may be harmful to my health like shell suits.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Lucy

        21/07/2015 at 22:18

        I’ve read ‘Crash’, so in a way I’ve missed out the middle of the sandwich!

        I still have bad dreams about the baldy-bearded PE teacher. He’s rocked a tracksuit. 😉

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  12. LuAnn

    21/07/2015 at 15:51

    I have not read anything by this author but this one sounds like something I would enjoy. Thanks Ste J!

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    • Ste J

      21/07/2015 at 18:10

      It is one of those books that is easily read and then as you go through you start to see what the author is saying beneath the plot and it becomes better. Any author who has a name that rhymes with mallard is alright by me!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. Sherri

    23/07/2015 at 15:34

    This book sounds fascinating, a modern day Robinson Crusoe indeed. What a unique concept. And thanks for the heads-up about the intro…hate that with twist spoilers, they seem to be getting harder and harder to avoid these days especially. Thanks for another excellent review.

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    • Ste J

      24/07/2015 at 19:04

      It is frustrating, when I picked up a copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the introduction was kind enough to say that it assumed people reading it had already read the book and to just dive straight in if not and so I now do that with all books. You won’t get a spoiler on this blog, although you may be spoilt yourself, for choice.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Sherri

        25/07/2015 at 11:18

        Spoilt for choice most definitely! So many books to read, so little time…have a great weekend my friend 🙂

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        • Ste J

          25/07/2015 at 19:01

          And your good self my dear friend.

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  14. readinpleasure

    28/07/2015 at 18:13

    It rings on the lines of man, know thy self. A little self examination even under such circumstances or perhaps as a result of such near death experience always does one a hell of good.

    Great review, Ste J, as always. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      29/07/2015 at 18:14

      It would take a great jolt to our lives in order for us to see more clearly, or to just descend into madness I guess, self examination may not be the easiest but in the long run is the best thing. I choose to do mine in the bath, much better than an island stuck between motorways.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • readinpleasure

        29/07/2015 at 18:17

        Me too. I normally do my self examinations in the bath or on the loo. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

         
        • RoSy

          08/08/2015 at 22:20

          LOL – That’s about the only time I have nobody around to disrupt my thoughts too.

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  15. RoSy

    08/08/2015 at 22:19

    Hope he wasn’t claustrophobic.

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    • Ste J

      10/08/2015 at 12:43

      That would have been interesting as a plot device, I like how your mind works.

      Liked by 1 person

       

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