Ballard, J. G.
Publisher: Harper Perennial
MNnnerrrgggh. This book made my brain hurt.
I actually do think I may have sustained long-term damage to my brain cells. Let me paint you a picture; I was aware of having an out of body experience while I read this tiny volume because I clearly remember watching my body sitting on the sofa smacking the open book against my head until the Lad asked me to stop. Maybe that’s why my brain hurts, but I’m pretty much blaming it all on The Atrocity Exhibition. Please don’t get me wrong though, the writing is genius, but it’s a little bit like the book version of that movie Mulholland Drive. You get little snippets, literally, wee snips of story in no particular order that you have to wade through and even then you don’t know if you get the story, but you’re too scared that people will think you’re a moron if you say you didn’t like it.
Well, no more! I’m standing up for morons everywhere. I didn’t get it. Which is not to say I didn’t like it, because by some miracle I did. But I had to try and make sense of it by looking it up on the Internet, and you know that it’s a bad sign when you do stuff like that. This book, according to the Internet, is a classic of underground literature. It’s style is reminicent of William Burroughs, though that’s from the Internet too, because it’s been so long since I read any Burroughs that I couldn’t trust my memory of what his stuff is like. He wrote the preface which is contained in this edition, so that was nice to read.
In retrospect, I should have started with something simplier. We’ve had Ballard’s Empire of the Sun sitting in the bookshelf for a million years, but I read an interview recently with William Gibson where he talks about Ballard being a big influence on him. And you know what a sucker I am for anything gruesome sounding. And while parts of it are unnerving, and disturbing, and you end up searching for meaning which you’re not really sure is there, it is totally worth every second.
Now, let’s get something straight. I’m inherently lazy. If I get to half-way of a book that’s failing to grab me (as long-time cublings will know), I stop reading it. Hence the tag ‘Half Way Rule’. I’m gonna keep coming back to that Mulholland Drive analogy though, because that’s the last time I remember feeling like everyone else was in on the act, whereas I was just… I don’t know, dumb for not getting it. I still don’t know what that stupid movie was about. But you know what? Because The Atrocity Exhibition is just so well written, while it’s not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, I made it all the way through without feeling too much like I’d wasted four days of my life reading it.
A little caveat there – it took me four days to read this book, but like I said, it’s skinny. And I couldn’t read anything else while I was reading it. I’m someone who has like, three or four books on the go at once, all stacked on the bedside table, bookmarks strewn through them. For instance, at the moment, I’m re-reading Defiance by Nechama Tec, and reading for the first time Warren Ellis’ Crooked Little Vein and Patricia Grace’s Baby No-Eyes. I had to stop all other reading because my brain was fully occupied with trying to puzzle out the story – was there a story? I still don’t know. There were common elements (although if I read the word ‘pudenda’ one more time, I think I might have puked – we get it JG, it’s a great word), themes that kept on popping up, and some really excellent comedic elements. Well, I was laughing, so I hope they were comedic. I was probably that annoying git in the cinema that laughs at all the bits that aren’t that funny. Jeez.
Has anyone else had an experience like that? You know, when you don’t wanna say you didn’t get it because it was… not so much cool, but you were worried that people would think you were a bit daft to admit it? I know I’m not alone here cublings, you can tell Mama Wolf, I won’t tell a soul…