The unpredictably serene memoir from one of the most daring voices in fiction.
Ballard (Kingdom Come, 2012, etc.), who died in 2009, was not just a revolutionary. He also demonstrated his extraordinary talent with a narrative range that ran from autobiographical fiction to the psychosexual antics of Crash. His 1969 collection The Atrocity Exhibition was so controversial, in fact, that Doubleday pulped the entire first print run. This autobiography, first published in the United Kingdom four years ago, was widely expected to be a revelation. Many were surprised to find that the book is instead a warm, nostalgic and kind remembrance, if lackluster in portraying the richness of the author’s work. For fans of Empire of the Sun, the first half of the book portrays Ballard’s experiences in the Lunghua internment camp near Shanghai during World War II and sheds light on his relationship with his parents. He also describes the tragic death of his wife, just after he started to establish himself as a writer, and to a lesser degree his unconventional relationship with lifelong partner Claire Walsh. Ballard reserves much of his affection for his children, for whom the memoir is named and who inspire unexpected humor. “Some fathers make good mothers,” he writes, “and I hope I was one of them, though most of the women who know me would say that I made a very slatternly mother, notably unkeen on housework, unaware that homes need to be cleaned now and then, and too often to be found with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other—in short, the kind of mother, no doubt loving and easy-going, of who the social services deeply disapprove.” The author pays surprisingly little attention to the work itself. He gives cursory mention to the firestorm that surrounded The Atrocity Exhibition, while he frames other novels in indistinct memories of their Hollywood adaptations.
An affectionate, incomplete recollection of life’s rich pageant.