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by J.G. Ballard

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1979
ISBN: 0586089950
Publisher: Holt Rinehart & Winston

Ballard has rapidly moved from his early "science fiction" into a label-defying realm where repeated enactments of sex and death appallingly calibrate the dial-faces of our instrument-centered awareness. And this new novel is a further departure, something like the disembodied first half of a typical Ballardian fantasy. Blake, the deranged young narrator, fleeing the shambles of his life, steals an airplane which he doesn't know how to fly, plunges the burning craft into the Thames near the British movie capital of Shepperton (also the setting for parts of Crash), and dies (or does he?) amid hallucinations of apotheosis through the power of sex and flight. The second protagonist of this egomaniac Death and Transfiguration is the town of Shepperton itself, which breaks out of its suburban slumber at Blake's commanding masturbatory fantasies, gradually allowing itself to become a "life engine" filled with his godhead. And meanwhile seven people who witnessed the crash (they clearly embody various demons of Blake's incinerating consciousness) keep crossing his path with subtly altering challenges. This whole schema is brilliantly carried off, with not a wasted syllable or bit of fakery; it also presents a stunning version of the familiar Ballard motif of catastrophe violently fusing the identifies of victim and bystanders. But it is uncharacteristic in two ways: the sustained exploration of a single isolated consciousness and the nearly complete suppression of any observed cultural-technological fabric. And, without his usual moorings, Ballard creates a sense of livid claustrophobia in following the workings of a hypertrophied imagination almost to the point of parody. An audacious book, then, adhering to its chosen purposes with magisterial economy -- but strangely dissatisfying and ungrounded.