‘I think sport is the key catalyst. England doesn’t have a very good soccer team, but we’ve always had world-class hooligans. And I think the English take a certain pride in that. ‘J.G Ballard
J.G Ballard’s new novel Kingdom Come is set in an ultra-modern shopping centre where the consumerist dream of ideal homes and endless sporting events has reached their inevitable apotheosis as a new form of fascism. The shopping centre in question is the fictional Metro-Centre located off the M25, but Kingdom Come could so easily read as an admonitory tale implying a retail dystopia which is very real and somewhat closer to home. J.G Ballard is the writer of Crash and Empire of the Sun, both of which have been filmed by the ‘Bergs’ (that’s Speil and Cronen) and has been described as the ‘Seer of Sheperton’, an ‘autobahn prophet’ and our ‘greatest living author’. In his 1968 novel The Atrocity Exhibition he predicted that Ronald Reagan would become president of America a good thirteen years before said governor of California achieved assassination status. Certainly no other writer seems to have his finger as firmly on the pulse of the 20/21st century’s psycho-sociological state of play. But with Kingdom Come Ballard appears to be writing the same book as if caught in a time glitch from one of his short stories of the 1950’s. His last four novels have all been set within high-concept living environments where the attainment of a perfect life loses out to an inherent will to violence.
In the fourth of what I’d call the ‘modern life is rubbish’ “quadrilogy” (Thank you 20th Century Fox) Cocaine Nights, Super Cannes, Millennium People and now Kingdom Come all begin with a seemingly meaningless murder in a perfect enclosed society with an outsider arriving to solve the mystery which turns out to be no real mystery at all because it’s always a barely concealed conspiracy involving all the residents; and it’s not Ballard’s first exploration of ideal living environments which, in ‘Ballard world’, inevitably degenerate into chaos; High Rise was written during his ‘golden period’ in the early 70’s, as a reaction to the explosion of tower blocks which threatened to be the de rigor living experience of the future. This said, even when Ballard doesn’t appear to be trying he still urinates from a great height on the likes of your Iain Banks’ and Alex Garland’s. Which I suppose goes some way to illustrating that the great are only great when they have to be. But Kingdom Come is recommended reading for residents of ‘designer towns’ like Celebration who yearn for meaning in increasingly meaningless times.