Review: Crash by J.G. Ballard

“The long triangular grooves on the car had been formed within the death of an unknown creature, its vanished identity abstracted in terms of the geometry of this vehicle. How much more mysterious would be our own deaths, and those of the famous and powerful?”
~J.G. Ballard, Crash

Plot summary

“In this hallucinatory novel, the car provides the hellish tableau in which Vaughan, a ‘TV scientist’ turned ‘nightmare angel of the highways,’ experiments with erotic atrocities among auto crash victims, each more sinister than the last.

James Ballard, his friend and fellow obsessive, tells the story of this twisted visionary as he careens rapidly toward his own demise in an intentionally orchestrated car crash with Elizabeth Taylor. A classic work of cutting edge fiction, Crash explores the disturbing potentialities of contemporary society’s increasing dependence on technology as intermediary in human relations.” More on Goodreads

On J.G. Ballard

“James Graham ‘J. G.’ Ballard (1930–2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Ballard came to be associated with the New Wave of science fiction early in his career with apocalyptic (or post-apocalyptic) novels (…). In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ballard focused on an eclectic variety of short stories such as The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), which drew closer comparison with the work of postmodernist writers such as William S. Burroughs. In 1973 the highly controversial novel Crash was published, a story about symphorophilia and car crash fetishism; the protagonist becomes sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car crashes.

Design of Crash. Photo: CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES (CC0 1.0)
Design of Crash. Photo: CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES (CC0 1.0)

While many of Ballard’s stories are thematically and narratively unusual, he is perhaps best known for his relatively conventional war novel, Empire of the Sun (1984), a semi-autobiographical account of a young boy’s experiences in Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War as it came to be occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army.

The literary distinctiveness of Ballard’s work has given rise to the adjective ‘Ballardian’, defined by the Collins English Dictionary as ‘resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.’ The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry describes Ballard’s work as being occupied with ‘eros, thanatos, mass media and emergent technologies’.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Erotic fantasies of the third kind
  • Interesting interpretation of road safety
  • Interest with accidents to achieve arousal

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.” ~J.G. Ballard, Crash

Lego car crash. Photo: Rool Paap (CC BY 2.0)
Lego car crash. Photo: Rool Paap (CC BY 2.0)

I first read The Atrocity Exhibition and later picked up Crash. I’m currently reading Ballard‘s The Complete Short Stories, a thick volume to last a lifetime. In his short stories, Ballard reminds me of Ray Bradbury due to a strong sinister element in the stories.

Human sexual and erotic interests do not have any boundaries. And poor celebrities seldom get a chance to influence the scope and length in which their images and characters are used. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to judge, it’s not my role. I’m interested in the nature of the human being and Crash offers a very unique leeway into the mysteries behind humanity.

In my teens, the only celebrity I came close to liking was James Dean. I am still very proud of having had the courage and the stamina in my childhood years to dislike New Kids On The Block while everyone else – or so I naturally assumed – liked the band in my class. Reading Dean’s biography, I burst into tears at the portrayal of his car crash. The celebrity circus around Dean and his untimely death had all the signs for teenage girl drama. It goes without saying, I shed a few tears but then got over it and moved on with my life.

J.G. Ballard had an unconventional childhood to put it mildly. He was raised in Shanghai and spent two years during World War II in an internment camp for Allied civilians. I wish I could finish reading Empire of the Sun soon. Also, High-Rise is among the to-read novels.

Ballard is a unique author, illustrating beauty in dreadful settings and giving a rather sinister outlook on humanity. But he does this by making his characters rather sympathetic and identifiable despite the circumstances.

More information
– Katy Guest: JG Ballard’s house – the perfect place to crash, published in the Guardian on 2 December 2016, link retrieved on 10 December 2016
– The New York Times: Review on Crash, published on 23 September 1973, link retrieved on 10 December 2016
– Iain Sinclair: Crash: JG Ballard’s artistic legacy, published in the Guardian on 13 February 2010, link retrieved on 10 December 2016
– Zadie Smith: Sex and wheels: Zadie Smith on JG Ballard’s Crash, published in the Guardian on 4 July 2014, link retrieved on 10 December 2016

Other novels and stories by Ballard
  • The Drowned World (1962)
  • The Terminal Beach (1964)
  • The Crystal World (1966)
  • The Atrocity Exhibition (1970)
  • Vermilion Sands (1971)
  • Concrete Island (1974)
  • High-Rise (1975)
  • Hello America (1981)
  • Empire of the Sun (1984)
  • War Fever (1990)
  • The Kindness of Women (1991)
  • Cocaine Nights (1996)
  • The Complete Short Stories (2001)
  • Millennium People (2003)
  • Kingdom Come (2006)

“Horns sounded from the trapped vehicles on the motorway, a despairing chorus.”
~J.G. Ballard, Crash


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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