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Crash


Keenomanjaro
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Ballard's controversial novel sets out to explore the link between sex and car crashes. After being involved in a fatal car crash, the narrator finds himself drawn to a group of car crash survivors/ fetishists, led by the charismatic Vaughan, who recreate accidents, view crash footage as if it were pornography and find sexual liberation in exploring the wounds, deformities and disabilities their accidents have inflicted upon each other.

 

The plot is really an aside to Ballard's unrelenting graphic descriptions of twisted metal, shattered glass, broken limbs and endless stretches of concrete. This cold, calculated way of setting a scene (combined with the emotionless characters) presents a bleak portrait of 20th century life, presumably designed as a response to the relentless consumerism and reliance on technology that 1970's Britain was experiencing. This doesn't make for an enjoyable reading experience though. After a few chapters, I was fed up hearing about the resemblance of a bare thigh to the curve of a car's instrument binnacle or other such comparisons of flesh and metal.

 

I think the biggest problem I had with the book was that I couldn't understand why this strange link between the automobile and sex had been the means by which Ballard tried to expose modern society. I think many of his ideas get buried beneath the sex and death scenes. Maybe a second read would help, but this isn't a book I'd want to revisit in a hurry.

 

Reading tip: If you imagine that the character of Vaughan is Jeremy Clarkson, your enjoyment of this book will increase ten-fold.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Crash", whilst being as uncomfortable a read as Ballard produced in his career, is very ingenious. It addresses the festishization of technology in our society as well as the fact that drivers slow down to look at car crashes. What is the human fascination with this?

 

However, it does have some of the flaws of which Ballard was often guilty. I've read about half a dozen of his books and they can sag in the middle, but I keep coming back to him as a writer because of his fascinating, if bleak, worldview.

 

His approach to plotting in his earlier work tended to be to introduce his concepts quite quickly and then keep re-iterating them in increasingly extreme ways until the novel reached its climax. "High Rise", which dates from around the same time as "Crash", suffers from similar problems.

 

Ballard's later work like "Cocaine Nights" sidesteps this problem by using a whodunnit format to propel the plot.

 

The coldness and clinicality which Keenomanjaro highlights is also key to "Crash" and to Ballard's appeal as a whole. His approach to his subject seems almost forensic sometimes so his writing style seems appropriate to me. Since he was often highlighting facets of modern humanity most of us would rather not think about, it seems to me to be important that he was as unflinching in his writing as he was in "Crash".

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