J.G. Ballard’s ‘Crash’ – Review

I was around fourteen years of age when I first came into contact with J.G. Ballard. My copy of Crash was then fresh and unturned, but now sits appropriately battered beside me. The spine cracked and the pages stained with wine. You could certainly say that it is loved.

The very mention of the title is enough to make complete strangers look upon you as though you had killed their lover in a head on collision but fail to be excited by the prospect that something unusual is happening internally. Ballard himself once had the novel rejected by a publisher who added that the author is beyond any form of psychiatric help and so must, under no circumstances be published. Thank somebody that it did.

Those who have never read Crash, but have heard of it, tend to be the most vocal about what lies within the content. It is a highly sexualised novel with consistently disturbing descriptions throughout which slice open the human condition with a scalpel to glance at the effect that media saturation has on the mind and the body.

We live in a world were violent images are far more easily accessible than they once were, in particular, Ballard wrote the novel when home video entertainment was relatively new and never before were people able to see graphic material from the comfort of their armchairs.  Crash successfully demonstrates how being bombarded with images alters the way in which we view them due to the constant repetition of descriptions of ‘lungs of elderly men punctured by door-handles; the chests of young women impaled on steering-columns; the cheek of handsome youths torn on the chromium latches of quarter-lights.’

These descriptions are disturbing at first, but sooner or later, as you continue to read the novel, you will start to feel something incredibly odd and disturbing happening within you as the reader. You become desensitised in very much the same way the news reels soon lose their effect as members of the public are often heard to show the disinterest in stories that have been running for over a week. Ballard shows our very need for fresh sensations by using the extreme situation of the car crash.

J.G. Ballard’s narrator, also named Ballard is shown to be disconnected, as do all of the characters, from the world around him. He and his wife, Catherine, are only able to achieve orgasm by informing each other about their affairs as their own bodies have already been explored, and thus seize to arouse any interest whatsoever. It is only after a car crash, were Ballard collides head on with the car of Dr Helen Remmington and catapulting the body of her husband through the windscreen and ending his life. These events spark a sensation and trigger a series of events where Remmington and Ballard begin to explore these new drives that they now have, awakened by the contact and near death experience.

They join other alienated car crash victims lead by Robert Vaughn, a former TV science scientist who carries an almanac of wounded individuals whose very lives are now changed forever.

The exploration of the human condition runs throughout this book, and it is incredibly easy to take the content for its literal content, however it is much more than a novel about sex and car crashes, it is a novel of endless possibilities all represented within chaos and alienation.

A truly masterful piece of writing that should defiantly be given a chance before jumping to conclusions.