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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

review: Kingdom Come by J.G. Ballard


Kingdom Come
by J.G. Ballard

A gunman opens fire in a shopping mall. Not a terrorist, apparently, but a madman with a rifle. Or not, as he is mysteriously (and quickly) set free without charge...
One of the victims is the father of Richard Pearson, unemployed advertising executive and life-long rebel. Now he is driving out to Brooklands, the apparently peaceful town on the M25 which has at its heart the very shining shoppers’ paradise where the shooting happened – the Metro-Centre.
Then the main suspect is released – thanks to the testimony of self-styled pillars of the community like the doctor who treated Richard’s father on his deathbed. Richard, determined to unravel the mystery, starts to believe that something deeply sinister lurks behind the pristine fa├žades of the labyrinthine mall, its 24-hour cable TV and sports club...

adult fiction ; speculative { genre
PG-13 for violence { rating
January 2006 { first released
Fourth Estate (UK) paperback (280 pages) { review edition
bought at full price { acquisition
Amazon.com ; Amazon.ca ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
Assigned for an essay in my Media Theory: Consumerism class.

First Lines
The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world.

Overall Rating
☂☂☂.5

I did enjoy this book as a metaphor-littered philosophical thriller, and it beats the hell out of reading an academic essay on the same topic, but I was a little disappointed in the lack of focus on individual characters/personality.

review posted at Amazon.ca, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari

Plot/Themes
☂☂☂☂

This was an assigned book in my class on Consumerism, so I read this mainly as a social commentary on the dangers of Consumerism turning into Fascism. However biased it might sound, I regard this book as more focused on the themes it explores than the characters that become entangled within it. The fictional suburb of Brooklands can be seen as a metaphor for any other motorway town/suburb dependent upon a shopping center for its economy and social structure.
We get glimpses of the town's slow deterioration into madness as Pearson, the narrator, explores the suburb to try and find answers to his father's murder. The smaller mystery of Pearson's father's death is a consequence of a greater disaster waiting to happen. As Pearson talks to various characters, we get liberally inserted social commentary on the effects of a mall-culture from the perspective of an ad man (Pearson) and the civilians who have to live under its influence. These long conversations on ideologies almost completely make up the "personalities" of the minor characters, either making it a very interesting read (if you like social commentary) or tedious (if you're looking for character development).
The entire story is both surreal and terrifyingly prophetic in a way, like watching a trainwreck heading straight for your neighbour's house, you are not in immediate danger (it is slightly exaggerated), but it is too close a call (it is based on the modern models of Consumerist society).
The "mystery" isn't really that thrilling. The revealing was anti-climatic in my opinion since it was made clear pretty early on who the main players were. In other words, this isn't to be read as a mystery novel, more so a psychological debate with consequences in death.

Characters
☂☂.5

The main character/narrator, Richard Pearson, is a recently-fired ad man who uses the many ideas and marketing strategies going through his head to manipulate and experiment on the mass psychology of the town of Brooklands. Sometimes he seems a little too passive, letting the story carry him instead of the other way around, like he is an observer watching events unfold rather than an active participant. He also has a bad habit of denying his responsibility to anything, making narrative observations that are unreliable at best. This becomes apparent to the reader pretty early on, and might frustrate some people, though I believe it is a fundamental part of his embodiment of the Consumerist ideology - hiding the truth behind shiny lies.
Many of the minor characters (the ones not clumped in with mobs) are paranoid, crazy, and disgusted with their state of being. They are all emotionally distant, even when they're shouting or crying, kind of like they are muffled behind the oppressive atmosphere of the plot. This makes it hard to sympathize with any of them, and perhaps that is Ballard's intention: to make us focus on the larger themes at work rather than the individual agents.

Writing
☂☂☂.5

Ballard's writing is very poetic and romanticized, often using metaphors with monsters and apocalyptic imagery. Like the plot, it is slightly surreal in this sense, but not to the extent of Shakespearean poetry. In terms of dialogue, most of it is made up of Ballard's social commentary by proxy of the characters, or plot-driving exposition, so there is not much personality, but at least it's intellectual.

Ending
☂☂☂.5

Considering that Ballard is well known for his "prophetic" novels, the fact that this book ends on a warning, that the events of the book can repeat itself, anywhere, makes a solid impression on the mind. The resolution is not so much rushed as inevitable, with a progressive build-up to an especially morbid twist, and then a short chapter to smooth over the excitement. It's not "conclusive" in the usual sense, but serves its purpose to present the reader with a parting dilemma to think on.

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