“Rushing to Paradise” by J.G. Ballard

I read “Crash” a while back. Everything that happened in the book from beginning to end was completely unbelievable, but still I quite liked it. It was somehow compelling, like the car crashes it described. The characters were unreal, human emotions and motivations were absent, the plot meandered through more and more ridiculous territory, and yet, still, I quite liked it. The vision of the world was so stunningly weird and recognisable at the same time.

Rushing to Paradise is similar to Crash in that nothing in it is remotely believable. But, unlike Crash, it is not remotely compelling. Perhaps it is simply the premise that I disagree with. The dystopic vision of a soul-dead society obsessed with sex and cars and death was something I could buy into. The snide vision of environmentalists and feminists as naive and/or psychotic man-hating lunatics is not so appealing.

There’s also the familiar and, to me, endlessly annoying “Lord of the Flies” assumption – take people out of a rule-based environment for a few months and they’ll become mad, murderous, paint-wearing, totem-worshipping savages. It’s a highly retrogressive (very un-Ballardian) view, which naturally leads us to the conclusion that we need a good strong government to save us from ourselves. I’m afraid I just don’t buy it. Maybe I’m naive myself, but I honestly believe that if you put a random group of people on a desert island, they’ll come up with a reasonably sensible way of surviving as a group until they get rescued. It’s what humans have done very successfully for thousands of years. Most of the savagery, as I see it, has come from governments.

So maybe that’s why I didn’t like this book. My own political prejudices clouding my judgement. The environmentalists, for example, are endlessly counterproductive, from the moment their boat becomes beached on a coral reef and emits a “huge oil slick” to the time when they start eating the endangered animals they’ve come to the island to protect. Halfway through, evidently feeling he has skewered the greens effectively, Ballard veers abruptly towards feminists. All the men start mysteriously dying, the women shave their heads, and the only man left on the island is kept alive purely to impregnate the women. Shaven-headed women taking over and reducing men to the role of sperm-producing entities to be discarded when no longer useful – it’s the ultimate male fear. And it’s utterly absurd.

I’m sure, though, that it’s not just politics that made me hate this. The writing in this book was definitely more pedestrian than in Crash. Crash felt hallucinatory, somehow; this was dull. Here, Ballard seems more aware of the absurdity of the concept, and tries to paper over it with over-long psychological explanations of the character’s motives (why does Neil, a non-environmentalist, nuclear-obsessed “youth”, go on the environmentalist expedition? Oh yeah, we are reminded endlessly, it’s because Dr Barbara, the leader who becomes a psychotic man-killing lunatic, is a replacement parent figure, etc. etc.). No real redeeming features on this one – just didn’t work for me.

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