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The Drowned World by JG Ballard Stephen Send a noteboard - 21/03/2011 12:37:16 AM
The Drowned World is a short speculative fiction novel by JG Ballard, first published in 1962.

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic London, where solar radiation has caused soaring temperatures, the polar ice caps to melt and Europe to become a flooded, tropical wasteland. The main character, Robert Kerans, is a biologist attached to an army unit tasked with travelling around the ruined, flooded cities of Europe recording the atavistic wildlife which has returned to a Triassic state.

Kerans and the other members of the army unit have become lethargic in their situation, and Kerans has left the confines of the army's quarters to take for himself a suite in the abandoned Ritz hotel. Much of Kerans' activity occurs between himself, the commander of the unit, Colonel Riggs, the unit's other biologist, Dr Bodkin, and the seemingly only remaining inhabitant of London, Beatrice Dahl. Kerans is plagued by primordial dreams, and as the until receives orders that they are to return to their base in Greenland, Kerans makes plans to stay in London, with Beatrice and Bodkin. In doing this, the trio are essentially dooming themselves to death, with only a few month's supplies to rely on and little chance of more coming their way.

Left on their own, Kerans, Bodkin and Beatrice all retreat into themselves and become isolated until the arrival of the scavenger Strangman, his fleet of ships, and congregation of crocodiles and alligators which serve as Strangman's guard dogs.

Strangman and his crew cause much of my dislike for the book. Strangman at first is a creepy, oily character who slimes over Beatrice, intent on separating her from Kerans and dividing the group. Strangman is only concerned with amassing submerged objet d'art and it is the pursuit of this that turns him into a wholesale loathsome character. While I accept that I am meant to dislike him, he is essentially the villain of the piece, Strangman just seems to one-dimensional.

The second major detractor is Ballard's portrayal of Strangman's crew. The are uniformly poorly sketched verging on racist caricatures of black Caribbeans, only two of whom are granted the courtesy of a title, namely the Admiral and Big Caesar, while the crew on a whole seem to be commanded half by fear and half by a vaguely voodoo-ish worship of Strangman.

The book does have its good points. The unit had made a fictitious report back to their base of a creature exactly corresponding to a real Triassic creature, anticipating a major reaction from their superiors but instead hearing no response to the report. Later do we learn this lack of response is due to the multitude of real reports of this creature at other locations by other teams, the event was in fact unremarkable rather than unbelievable as the unit had hoped.

Additionally, the psychosis experienced by Kerans and several others as their minds regress while faced with devolving surrounds is both harrowing and surprisingly believable. This world that Ballard creates is very evocative and surreal, and I really felt for the trauma that this changed world caused for Kerans and co.

Ultimately, I found the book somewhat hard to engage with. I never felt the gripping desire to keep reading. Usually I would devour a book of its length in a matter of hours in a single sitting, but this book took me a number of weeks to finished. I never had the urge to read more than a dozen or so pages at a time and went five days without even picking it up on two occasions. I felt the book lacking, and wasteful of an interesting premise, the possible horrors of uncontrollable natural global warming with the use of dislikeable characters and unattractive writing.

Two out of five albino crocodiles.

"I mean, if everyone had a soul, there would be no contrast by which we could appreciate it. For giving us this perspective, we thank you." - Nate
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The Drowned World by JG Ballard - 21/03/2011 12:37:16 AM 8460 Views
I had a very different reaction to Ballard's book - 21/03/2011 12:52:49 AM 1496 Views
I did read that review of your's earlier. - 21/03/2011 12:59:05 AM 1385 Views
Ballard has been on my to read list for ages - 05/04/2011 08:28:09 PM 1288 Views

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