Posted by: billpurdue | January 1, 2009

36 Happy New Year!

Well, it’s 2009 and another Christmas has just wizzed by: it all seems to be over in a flash. Did you get or give any books for Christmas? I got one book – a travel guide to somewhere I hope to visit later this year (of which more when I get there). I always seem to get my presents over an extended period as I don’t see all my friends and relatives that often. I did get a book token which I will enjoy spending: it will probably burn a hole in my pocket. I also gave one or two books as presents – to my cousin who is interested in local history I gave A Centenary History of Nottingham [Phillimore £30 978186074386]. I didn’t pay £30 – I got it from one of those mail order discount book outlets, of which more later this month. Other books I gave included Stephen Booth’s Dying to Sin [ HarperCollins £6.99 9780007243440] which I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog. It’s the only one so far of Stephen Booth’s books that I have read, but I will be reading more. By the way – if you haven’t listened to the Stephen Booth interview, go to the previous posting – number 35.

What’s a dystopia?

I am ashamed to say that I didn’t get a lot of reading done over Christmas, but one book I did read was Kingdom Come by J G Ballard [Harper Perennial £7.99 9780007232475]. The setting for this novel is a rather featureless town- “Brooklands” – near the M25 and the famous motor racing circuit, whose only “attractions” appear to be some modern sports stadiums (or should I say stadia?) and one huge shopping centre called the Metro Dome. Richard Pearson, an advertising executive by trade, is called to Brooklands because his estranged father,who lived there, has been shot whilst visiting the Metro Dome. At first it seems that a gunman went on the rampage and Pearson’s father just happened to get in the way, but it isn’t until we get much further into the book that we find out there’s much more to it than that.

The whole culture of the town is centred around sport and shopping. The Metro Dome is seen as something essential to human existence and anything at all that might threaten the Dome, not just a mad gunman on the loose, is seen as a threat to the whole population of the town. Not only is consumerism worshipped, but there is a strong racist element amongst the local population. At the slightest provocation, or even apparently unprovoked, crowds of sports fans gather together and target anyone or anything foreign or alien to their way of thinking – and the police appear to pass it off as high spirits. Central to it all is David Cruise, the chat show host who is seen advertising the shops and goods on sale in the Metro Centre. Is he the one who can stop the situation getting out of hand, or is he the cause of it all?

Ballard conjures up a nightmarish situation: it’s very unsettling and you wonder if this might happen in real life. Commentators on Kingdom Come have described  Brooklands as a dystopia – a word defining an imaginary place where everything is as bad as it can be. In an interview at the back of the book, Ballard says that the dictionary definition shouldn’t be taken too literally, but he says “if you do believe that England is all cricket grounds and villages and cycling to evensong, then you’re going to find [this book] about as soothing as a punch in the face” I can wholeheartedly agree. Unsettling at first, then later on quite gripping , it’s a worthwhile read.

To find out more about J G Ballard, try these websites: http://www.jgballard.com/index.php or http://www.ballardian.com/

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