I really enjoyed this book - so much so that I want listen to it again, and soon. Having said that, it didn't deliver what I expected, especially given that I understand it's primarily regarded as a textbook. I thought it would focus on the development and dissemination of LSD, and it certainly started that way, but somewhere after the first third of the book, it became more and more an account of some key events of the late 60s and early 70s and a (selective) look at some of the personalities of that time. (I know it describes itself as a 'social history', but I still expected there to be a greater focus on the drug itself.) I liked the narrative turn, but unfortunately it felt pretty unstructured from this point: another reviewer described it as 'kaleidoscopic' - it certainly could be dis-orienting at times, as the authors focussed on one social movement or one personality, then circled back (in time) to follow another, rather than showing how these events and individuals interacted or influenced one another. I also hoped for more of a discussion about the development of the drug itself as manufacturing expanded, and the experience of users: it is clear that there is a wealth of evidence from the (then-legal) use of the drug in therapy, in government and defence contexts, and in personal journals, but the authors barely touch on this area.
Also, was it my imagination, or did the narrator change suddenly, towards the end (and then the original narrator returned)?! The narrator/s were good. The treatment of footnotes was a little odd: the footnotes seemed to be read at exactly the point they appeared in the original text, resulting in some strange diversions in already complex narratives! It would have been better to have treated them as endnotes, or at least to finish the sentence to which they related before reading the footnote in!
These negatives aside, if you are prepared to approach this book as more of a historical (though not linear) narrative of the 1960s and early 70s, albeit with a selective focus, constructed around the thread of LSD - rather than a concentrated consideration of the drug itself - then I am sure you will find plenty to keep your interest.
'The Drowned World' was the first JG Ballard book I ever read, and I consider it the most fascinating, and engaging, of the initial quartet concerned with climatic catastrophes ('The Wind from Nowhere'; 'The Drowned World'; 'The Crystal World'; 'The Burning World/The Drought'). Ballard regarded it as his 'first' novel (rather cruelly condemning 'The Wind from Nowhere', which isn't really so bad).
Given that 'The Drowned World' is Ballard's 'first', or at least very early, work, it's supremely confident, yet economical, writing. The style seems more concise, and the plot more precise, than the other works in the quartet. At the same time, the subtext/s are packed in tightly: a lot of commentators will point to the Freudian and Jungian undertones, the apparent parallels with Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' (explicitly denied by Ballard), Ballard's incorporation of Surrealist techniques and themes (perhaps novel here, but not a surprise to anyone familiar with his later works - the resonances between this and 'The Atrocity Exhibition' are fascinating in retrospect), and allusions to Shakespeare and classical mythology. I have no doubt that 'The Drowned World' can be analysed on these (and probably other) levels if you wish. Much of of the delight of the book is in Ballard's lavish descriptions of the bizarre externalities and it is easy for a reader to 'lose themselves' in the evocative landscapes. However, for me, 'The Drowned World' (much like 'The Crystal World') is all about psychology, not geography. What Ballard is really inviting you to consider is not the unusual world he describes, but how people react to, and behave in, such extremes.
Many readers feel that Ballard's characters (especially the lone female character of Beatrice in 'The Drowned World') are not sufficiently well-drawn to connect with, and it is therefore impossible to be interested in their their motivations and their decisions. I doubt this is an oversight, rather a very deliberate technique: he's not inviting you to empathise, rather to analyse. Ballard acknowledges explicitly that even the characters rarely connect with one another, that "their only true meeting ground would be in their dreams".
Julian Elfer's narration of this text is very good - a couple of odd pronunciations here and there, but the pace and tone is excellent.
As Ballard never disowned 'The Drowned World', I suggest it's a good starting point for anyone wanting to 'try' Ballard. My only negative comment would be that, in audiobook form, I found the last third or so of the book more chaotic than I remembered from my last reading (in written form). For me, Ballard excelled in the short-story/novella format - his books, such as this one, can feel like they pack too much in and/or 'run out of steam' before the finish ... but as notions of time always play such an important element in his writing, I'm comfortable admitting that perhaps this is a reader failing, not a writer fault.
I had no idea how this would work as an audiobook, as it has had several incarnations in print, including annotated and heavily illustrated editions, but I thought it worked remarkably well. This is apparently the 'annotated' version - the author's commentary is incorporated in the form of endnotes at the end of each 'chapter' (in my opinion, a much better way to deal with annotations than trying to work them into the narrative at the point at which they appear in the written text). However, this audio version only has two of the four 'appendices' or 'found texts' that were added to the book in later years.
I was critical of William Gaminara's narration of Ballard's 'Hello America', but I thought his narration of this intentionally disorienting and disjointed text, which is more collage than narrative, was excellent. With one very minor exception, any accents are subtle and his narration is clear and well paced, which assists with the focus that is needed to follow this text.
If you are coming to this book for the first time, understand that this is a deliberately disturbing text. It's a surrealist exercise, challenging in form and in substance: it explores themes that are perverse, pornographic, violent and confronting. It is non-linear, intentionally repetitive and, to a certain extent, has dated (with its particular references to events and personalities of the decade in which it was written, not all of whom may be familiar). However, one of its most powerful aspects is its critique of violence and the media spectacle, a theme that remains (sadly) relevant.
I personally found it extremely difficult to get into the first 'chapter' (I can't remember if I had the same issue reading the hard copy text). If you have similar difficulties, remember that each 'chapter' was originally published as a stand-alone story, and it is possible to read the chapters in an alternative order. Once you are acclimatized to the flow of the writing, it may be easier to return to those chapters/those stories that initially seem less accessible.
I feel I must announce my bias upfront: I am a fan of both Ballard as a writer, and Barrett as a narrator. Even with that bias, I truly felt that this particular audiobook was a 'perfect marriage' - a five-star narration that enhances a vivid, evocative text. I would definitely recommend this audiobook as an introduction to early Ballard.
A lot of readers - even Ballard fans - don't like this book: some common criticisms are that the characters are unbearable and their motivations ambiguous, the descriptions of landscapes interminable, the symbolism heavy-handed and the ending, in particular, irreconcilable. I would never dare suggest Ballard as 'light-reading', but I nevertheless think that 'The Crystal World' is one of his books that can be read 'simply', as a pure narrative (without interposed analysis). If you are going to approach it in that way, perhaps it is helpful to have in mind Colin Greenland's thesis that it's all about acceptance and acclimatization: seen in this light, the characters' choices may be more relatable.
I do find it interesting that one of the common complaints about 'The Crystal World' is the focus on describing the environment in which the characters find themselves. In this regard, 'The Crystal World' reminds me somewhat of Lem's 'Solaris' - the awesome beauty is almost a distraction from the destructive (and/or transformational) nature of the environment. Jason Heller's take on Ballard as "[u]nimaginable horror meted out in the most disciplined packages" is the one that resonates the most with me. I don't think that there is an extraneous word in 'The Crystal World', and Barrett's subtle narration is the perfect complement.
On one hand, I am just SO excited to finally have more of Ballard's work than 'Crash' and the odd short story on Audible that I'm not even going to critique the story, except to say that the Amazon reviews generally raise valid points. I accept that this is probably not one of Ballard's stronger stories, but I think the social commentary is still interesting, and remarkably relevant - when one remembers this was first published in 1981 - especially the ecological aspects.
I enjoyed William Gaminara as a narrator, as I expected I would, but some of the accents made me cringe! This is not a criticism of Gaminara; I expect this was a directorial decision, and it was executed fine, but the accents unfortunately really detracted from the narration for me.
Overall, probably not the best choice for your first foray into Ballard on Audible: I see 'The Crystal World' is 'coming soon' (August 2014) and will be read by Sean Barrett - probably a better introduction to Ballard than 'Hello America'. For those already familiar with Ballard or with this story, I suppose it depends on whether you are a completist or not - if you didn't like this story on first reading, or prefer 1960s/70s Ballard, then this interpretation will probably not endear you to this tale.
The narration was excellent, as could be expected from William Hope. The story was perfectly enjoyable, but nothing spectacular. In particular, I felt the conclusion was rather unsubtly signalled from quite early in the story - perhaps this was intentional (ie breadcrumbs for the reader) but it's a approach that may lead to reader frustration with the protagonists' lack of awareness. This aside, the most annoying element for me was the reliance on long soliloquies to impart information: they were glaringly unnatural in the context in which they occurred - the first might have gotten a pass, but the repeated use of this technique was jarring in the latter half of the book. Again, the story was delivered excellently by the narrator, but the flaws in writing or story editing detracted from the experience. I personally will try other Daniel Blake novels, and I can suggest this as a pleasant diversion, but nothing special.
This is a favourite of mine amongst Von Daniken's writings, but I was disappointed by the quality of the editing/production - in particular, persistent mispronunciations by the narrator.
I really enjoyed this audiobook ... until the ending. While it certainly was an intriguing resolution, it seemed 'rushed' (compared with the time devoted to other aspects of the plot), and, in my opinion, let down what was, overall, an interesting novel with engaging characters and pleasant narration by Lila Wellesley.
Louise Welsh's 2002 debut may not be for everyone, with its explicit descriptions of her gay male protagonist's numerous dalliances. And there were too many echoes here, too - of the plot points of AK Walker's '8MM', the nihilism of Susanna Moore's 'In the Cut' - for it to feel anything more than a transposition of established themes to new locales. Perhaps it's these echoes that result in some jarring incongruities that are possibly intentional, but also annoying - a supposedly contemporary Glasgow with a 'gaslight' feel, first person narration drowning under the weight of ponderous exposition. There are some lovingly crafted minor characters, but I was extremely disappointed by the unsubtle elements of this book, given the critical acclaim with which it was greeted on its release. Robert Carlyle's narration is excellent, though some people may find it takes some time to acclimatize to his heavy Glaswegian accent.
Report Inappropriate Content