Thursday, 25 September 2014

My latest read: Crash by J G Ballard

J G certainly divides the camp with 'Crash'.  Released in 1973, the reviews were uncompromising: ‘Crash is, hands down, the most repulsive book I’ve yet to come across.’ New York Times, Sept. 1973 (the ambiguity of the phrasal verb is almost unbearable).  Martin Amis, Observer, July 1973 wrote: ‘Ballard has a brilliant reputation but this novel’s obsession with sado-masochism via deliberate car-crashing is repellent.’ 

Ballard himself says in his introduction: ‘...the ultimate role of Crash is cautionary, a warning against that brutal, erotic and overlit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscapes.’  That got me.

I read on and discovered that Crash is undoubtedly explicitly pornographic, but there have been many novels that have crossed boundaries and appalled (or delighted) readers in the past.  Crash gets into a territory that is so new that I had to keep reading despite the natural revulsion I felt for some of the most deviant imagery I have ever experienced.  The intimate and devastating bringing together of automobile parts and human anatomy, where gauges and gear sticks leave scars that inspire the ‘nightmare angel of the expressways’, Dr. Robert Vaughan  to perform sex acts recreated from accidents he has witnessed had me squirming and yet...

...I went along with it, in some reassuring way, holding the hand of the narrator, who, although enjoying the kind of sexual freedoms that inhabit the most creative of imaginations, seemed at the same time, recognisably human - he cared about his wife, his friends, but, like me, was intrigued and wanted to know more about the decadent and highly charismatic Vaughn’s nightmare obsessions with the motor car and those injured or killed in crashes happening almost on a daily basis on the highway.

The thesis is extreme: that we are living on the edge of a cataclysmic event in which we will all be consumed.  Technology, and the dreams it ensnares us with, will destroy us.  In the process, it will continue to de-humanise us.

The impacts between metal, glass and upholstery and the human body seemed to blur the differences between what is animate and inanimate, but more than that, I felt that there was an element of sacrificial inevitability.  The many human fluids mentioned that appeared to decorate and mingle with the excretions of the motor car did not detract from this.

Crash caught me up and carried me into a startlingly new domain, which both horrified and fascinated me.  At no point did I doubt the wider aims of the author, who asserts that Crash ‘is an extreme metaphor for an extreme situation, a kit of desperate measures only for use in an extreme crisis.’  Elsewhere he states that Crash is a ‘psychopathic hymn which has a point.’

The descriptions are unswervingly detailed, the images deeply disturbing, the repetition of death and injury on the highways and flyovers relentless.  It’s worse than any bad dream you could imagine.

Am I glad I read it?  You bet.


  1. Ah Bev, you're made of sterner stuff than I am. I've put many a book aside for all the reasons you've mentioned above. Brave you!

    1. Thanks for popping over, Val. I must try to follow your (and some other) blogs. I find the registering bit overly intrusive...

      Crash? Just a way of seeing it, I think. A literary masterpiece. I can assure you I'm not brave!

  2. Hi nicee reading your post