Kingdom Come

By J.G. Ballard

(Liveright Publishing, $24.95, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

J.G. Ballard died in London three years ago and left us with 19 novels, many of which were adapted as major movies, such as “Empire of the Sun” and “Crash.” He is known for his ability to write in a calm and understated way about violent and disturbing themes.

What is this book about?

When Richard Pearson’s father is shot and killed by an insane man in a huge shopping mall near Heathrow Airport outside London, the unemployed ad executive is horrified – and suspicious – when the killer is released. He soon discovers the mall is headquarters for a fascist group whose glib leader is fomenting frenzy among his followers, and what seems like nothing more than enthusiastic consumerism and rah-rah patriotism thinly masks a dangerous turn toward mob rule and a racist revolt by middle-class suburbanites.

Why you’ll like it:

Though we cannot say it was Ballard’s intent, this book, published first in 2006 in England, carries more than a hint of counter-programming to the Olympics, whose desire to show one world coming together to celebrate sports prowess is in uneasy contrast to the growing racial and anti-immigrant tensions in England and other European countries. Ballard is a satirist who relishes exposing the dark side of contemporary life and politics. As Anna Mundow writes in a Barnes and Noble review:

“In his final, elegiac vision of suburban apocalypse, Ballard once again allows us to imagine the unthinkable.”

What others are saying:

“Ballard, paradoxically, with all his characters gripped by obsession and necessity, is one of the great novelists of freedom,” says the Financial Times.

 “[T]here’s a lot of irony in Ballard.  If his late (and very funny) books sound peculiar to American ears, it’s probably because of his very English tendency to play almost everything he says, however outrageous, at moderate to low volumes. Unlike the noisier, New Yorkerish avant-garde types who like to shock and awe their readers, Ballard doesn’t shout or swear or get in your face. Even his most disturbing obscenities…are as mannered and concise and unimpassioned as a GPS device’s soothing, digitally modulated voice describing how to reach the next gas station,” says Scott Bradfield in a New York Times Book Review.

“Ballard (1930–2009) creates a world reminiscent of “A Clockwork Orange” and “V for Vendetta” in this novel of suburban fascism… Ballard writes brilliantly about the nightmarish underside of modern life, and this novel makes us poignantly aware of the loss of his voice,” says Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

“An assassination, an uprising and masses of people rallying to defend their sacred dome from attack. The temple they’re ready to die for is the Metro-Centre shopping mall, which represents the only meaning in J. G. Ballard’s biting, surreal vision of suburban London. “Consumerism is the one thing that gives us our sense of values,” one local citizen says of the belief system he actually despises. (He turns out to be behind the putsch to reclaim their town from retailers.) …Ballard, who died in 2009, is more funny than preachy; there’s a certain glee in his spite…” says the New York Times.

When is it available?

Come and get this book at the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Albany branch.

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