Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review: The Crystal World by J.G. Ballard

The Crystal World
THE CRYSTAL WORLD by J.G. Ballard - Cover Image
By J.G. Ballard

A doctor whose specialty is the treatment of leprosy ventures into the African jungle in search of his lover, who he fears may be in the midst of some political upheaval. When he arrives, he learns that the jungle (and, indeed, other areas across the world) have succumbed to some bizarre (un)natural event where the entire area and everything inside it are transformed into jewels, frozen in time for all eternity, like Han Solo encased in carbonite...only prettier.

The plotline sounds like the synopsis to some forgotten men's adventure novel from the 'seventies, but Ballard attempts to elevate it to a higher level. Did he succeed? That depends on your idea of success. It's much more intelligent and highbrow than an adventure novel, but an adventure novel would have at least kept me entertained.

I'm not very familiar with Ballard's work, so I can't say how this fits into and compares to the rest of his writings. All I can say is that the characters here felt flat and one-dimensional, like they weren't real people at all, but rather paper dolls that Ballard just dragged through the plot.

The crystalline jungle and the affected life forms within were certainly well depicted, but occasionally over done and repetitious. At a certain point, I knew what a bejeweled tree looked like. I didn't require it to be spelled out for me yet again.

There was some small amount of philosophizing about time and space and the quantum mechanics of life or what-have-you, but it all went well over my head. Perhaps that was the problem with the entire book--I know I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to certain areas of thought. Your mileage may vary.

By the end of the book, I was glad that it was over. I was bored to the point that if it was a longer work, I would have given up and moved onto something else. I'm intrigued enough to try more of Ballard's writing in the future, but he won't be topping my queue at the moment.

Any thoughts?


  1. That's kind of a shame. I tend to like Ballard, but I haven't read this one (I completely dig High Rise, for instance).

    Ballard's characters are frequently passively self-destructive. I do recommend High Rise, and to a lesser extent Vermilion Sands, Concrete Island, and The Drowned World.

    Incidentally, for a movie connection, the non-Oscar winning Crash is based on one of his books, and Empire of the Sun is based heavily on his experiences in World War II as a kid.

  2. SJHoneywell: I'll look into HIGH RISE, and I'm already interested in CONCRETE ISLAND. It's my understanding that THE DROWNED WORLD, CRYSTAL WORLD, and the BURNING WORLD comprise some sort of themed triptych. Maybe I just started with the wrong Ballard...

    Thanks for stopping by!


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