The Crystal World by JG Ballard
A Recommended Book of the Month
The front jacket of the Fourth Estate 2014 version has the Guardian claiming "something magical and not to be missed". Now, it's not often I agree with the vapid sound bite blurb on a cover but, in this case, it's pretty much an accurate summary. Having read Ballard's "The Drowned World", I moved swiftly onto this one, exchanging a "wet sky stained by the setting sun" for "cities petrified beneath layers of prismatic crystal". There are echoes of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" in here; given Ballard's novel focuses intently on the concept of polarity of light and dark, I think this novel the dazzling counterbalance to that 1899 accusation of the human condition. Like all the novels of Ballard's "World" quartet, time is suspended for the narration, it is a fabulation that makes the reader hold breath whilst soaking in the lights of his words. Indeed, we find that tropes, then fragments of sentences, then whole paragraphs begin to crystallize around us as an understanding born of inductive reasoning enlightens us. It is the absence of syllogism that forces the reader (willingly) to stumble blindly through the lustre of Matarre's forest until our protagonist, Dr Sanders, finds a kind of Christian salvation through the glittering icons of Catholicism that can deliquesce the crystals.
"However apostate we may be in this world, there perforce we become apostles of the prismatic sun."
It is into this crystal forest that Ballard plunges us with a novel that is straightforward in regards of plot: Sanders leaves his leproserie to arrive at the Port Matarre after receiving a strange summons from a lover, Suzanne Clair. He arrives with the enigmatic Ventress (like Strangman in "The Drowned World", he is another idiosyncratic nemesis of a "white suited figure and sharp skull"), finds himself caught up in an attempt to murder the latter, and then journeys with the journalist Louise Peret deep in to the jungle, to Mont Royal, to understand the truth about the crystalline force of the universe that is besetting the planet. As time itself leeches away, so the world around him begins to focus ever more sharply through a spectrum of deadly crystals, blinding everyone to an insane adoration where choices are instinctively drawn out of every person and the true nature of every being is revealed in a glorious transparency. We find ourselves encased in a story where "divisions into dark and light seemed everywhere around". What follows is a series of journeys through the jungle in a race against time; either to hunt or to find or to escape: the journeys are striking in their individual need.
With him are characters that are lost in their own misery: the mine-owner, Thorensen, desperately trying to protect his wife, Serena; Captain Aragon who comes across like a sane Captain Ahab; Captain Radek who degenerates into a crystal man "lurching [one] stride after another, his pace quickening as the prismatic light of the forest mingled with his blood"; the "vitrified" crocodiles with ruby-jewelled eyes (caiman is a common reptilian theme for Ballard), the already lost Suzanne Clair who leads villagers in a mad dance reminiscent of Dickens’ Miss Havisham; the young African Kagwa who blindly follows his insane leader until, at the last, Sanders is the sole survivor to stagger from the crystal forest with his earlier "curious premonition of hope and longing, as if he were some fugitive Adam chancing upon a forgotten gateway to the forbidden paradise" gone, utterly replaced by the knowledge that "despite his relief at escaping from the forest, this feeling of flatness and unreality, of being in the slack shallows of a spent world, filled Sanders with a sense of failure and disappointment."
As readers we experience this transition through Ballard's coruscating language of prose, his fine attention to using a full prism of tropes that assail us with a sense of colour and light, time and time again. It is Louise Perot who idly notes that "when you first arrive here everything seems dark, but then you look at the forest and see the stars burning in the leaves". It is the reader who, at the final page, realizes the stars are Ballard's words, the leaves the pages of his novel, the forest the entirety of his masterpiece.
This The Crystal World book review was written by travelswithacanadian
Have you read The Crystal World?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
The Crystal World reader reviews
9.5/10 from 1 reviews
There are currently no reader reviews for this book. Why not be the first?
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothi...
Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels ag...
The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct. The half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boun...
Oryx and Crake
Snowman may be the last man on earth, the only survivor of an unnamed apocalypse. Once he was Jimmy, a member of a scientific elite; now he lives in bitter isolation and lo...
Facing down an unprecedented malevolent enemy, the government responds with a nuclear attack. America as it was is gone forever, and now every citizen – from the Pres...
The Last Man Standing
Italy is on the brink of collapse. Borders are closed, banks withhold money, the postal service stalls. Armed gangs of drug-fuelled youths roam the countryside. Leonardo wa...
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse
John Joseph Adams
Famine, death, war, pestilence. These are said to be the harbingers of the biblical apocalypse-Armageddon. The End of the World. Whether by nuclear warfare, a biological di...
Emily St John Mandel
What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty. One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whil...
An illness spreads through an unnamed city. It has only one symptom: blindness. It comes without fanfare, pain, or warning. One moment a man waits in his car at the traffic...
The Reapers are the Angels
God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe... Older than her years and completely alone, Temp...
Legends of the Red Sun
Mark Charan Newton
An ice age strikes a chain of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur. It’s a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshe...
The Return Man
The outbreak tore the USA in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco ma...
A modern Britain. An age-old cruelty. Britain's magically skilled aristocracy compels all commoners to serve them for ten years - and now it's the Hadleys' turn...
First came the days of the plague. Then came the dreams. Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the...
The Last Policeman
Ben H Winters
What's the point in solving murders if we're all going to die soon, anyway? Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into v...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
Best of 2016
What are Strungballs? Ten-year-old Sydney is about to find out... but first he must have a cube of his flesh removed. Sydney will transgress everything he was taught to believ...
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
Ceda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim--that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will--but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, c...
Dead Men Naked
After the sudden death of his best friend Neil, involving a 6-foot giant crow and quite some Tequila, Lou’s life takes an unexpected turn towards the impossible. As L...
Age of Assassins
Girton Club-Foot, apprentice to the land's best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with ...
A Conjuring of Light
The precarious equilibrium among the four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empi...
Sebastien de Castell
Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, is on the brink of fulfilling his dead King's dream: Aline is about to take the throne and restore the rule of law once...
The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart
Edinburgh, 1874. On the coldest night the world has ever seen, Little Jack is born with a frozen heart and immediately undergoes a life-saving operation. But Dr Madeleine i...
The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow's Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow...