Book Review – Miracles of Life by J. G. Ballard
Miracles of Life is J. G. Ballard’s recently published autobiography. I did not expect JGB to write an autobiography, and possibly he himself did not either, but the news that he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer changed his mind. I was very eager to read this book, and I am somewhat disappointed to say that it failed to live up to my expectations. JGB must surely be one of the greatest English writers of the 20th century – his novels The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash are close to the greatest novels of the century, as are his lesser known The Unlimited Dream Company and High-Rise. But Ballard, in his old age, has been in declining as a writer for something like fifteen years now. I found his later novels, Cocaine Nights and Super Cannes, to be of middling quality, and I have neglected to read Millennium People, and neglected even to purchase Kingdom Come. Ballard is, quite simply, past it, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given his age. To put his life in perspective, Ballard was born only two years later than Philip K. Dick, who died (of course) in 1982. Ballard will probably live to seventy-nine or eighty, which must seem like a reasonable innings.
OK, so what did I find disappointing about Miracles of Life? It is a combination of things. Firstly, there is nothing here that an avid JGB enthusiast (as I am) would not already know. Several sections read very similarly to things Ballard has said over the years in interviews. It is almost as if he has a ‘party line’ on his own life, and is quite content to reel it out. There is very little that is confessional, startling, or even particularly interesting here. There’s also a sort of veil of depersonalisation here. Ballard writes about his life so vacuously that it’s hard to imagine it meant much to him. He does come to life on a few issues: namely his time in the Lunghua prison camp, and in describing his apparently blissful relationship with his own children. But most of the rest of this reads quite limply indeed. It’s a shame, because this is pretty much the final word we’ll hear from Ballard, I suppose.
I’ve ran out of things to say. I’m sure that others will appreciate this book more than I, especially those who perhaps have not studied JGB’s life as closely as I have, but my reservations remain. Goodbye, James Graham Ballard. You are a truly great writer, and you will be remembered.