A Londoner who has spent his adult life trying to disconnect from those around him finds himself lost in the middle of the city. Robert Maitland is a successful architect, who feels stifled at home with his wife but is unable to commit to his lover. He has self-consciously arranged things at work so that he wouldn't be missed if he left for a while. So when he finds himself stranded, marooned, in the grassy junkyard median between three overlapping highways, he knows it's up to him to find his way out. Initially his injuries prevent him from climbing the steep embankment or the high fence that surrounds his little island. He is injured further when he tries to flag a passing vehicle during rush hour, and then it is a question of survival. Before long, he discovers that leaving is not at the top of his list of concerns.
There are clear (and quite deliberate) parallels with Robinson Crusoe, but this is very much a modern novel of alienation, that highlights the longing for isolation, solace, and self-sufficiency in a world where we are utterly dependent on others and on technologies; where we seem to be connected in so many ways, but are in fact bound by these connections, both alienated and enslaved. If that sounds heady, the novel isn't. Ballard's art is almost effortless, and he depicts the ironies of modern life, ostensibly liberated by technology and commerce, in simple and subtle ways. This was the book I happened upon as a late introduction to the late J.G. Ballard, and I found it to live up to his strong reputation as a high concept novelist of provocative pulp fiction. I'll definitely read more.
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About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen (nateandersen)
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida. I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (www.eckerd.edu/ic), and am co-director of … more
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"Visionary of both style and substance . . . the literary equivalent of Salvador Dalí or Max Ernst."—The Washington Post Book World
"Ballard's novels are complex, obsessive, frequently poetic, and always disquieting chronicles of nature rebelling against humans, of the survival of barbarism in a world of mechanical efficiency, of ethropy, anomie, breakdown, ruin . . . The blasted landscapes that his characters inhabit are both external settings and states of mind."—Luc Sante --Review