OR: Super-Cannes

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #26:-


J G Ballard

Flamingo, £16.99

For nearly three decades, in books such as High-Rise and Running Wild, Ballard has been presenting readers with outwardly idyllic social units and then revealing the foundations of clay on which they are built. Super-Cannes, the latest in this dystopian sub-genre, takes the idea of crime as recreational therapy from Cocaine Nights and develops it on a larger and more systematic basis.

Situated on the French Riviera, just above Cannes, Eden-Olympia is riding the wave of the future, a hi-tech business park in which many of the world’s largest multinationals have a stake, a closed community of movers and shakers whose motto is ‘work is pleasure’. Dr Jane Sinclair is recruited to work in Eden-Olympia’s clinic, a replacement for David Greenwood, a young and idealistic medic who ran amok with a gun and killed ten people before being gunned down himself, and nobody knows the reason why. Jane’s spare wheel husband Paul, a pilot grounded by injury, sets out to learn what really happened, egged on by Eden-Olympia’s presiding spirit, the psychiatrist Wilder Penrose. He discovers that beneath the respectable and businesslike veneer a very different culture has evolved, offering a way for bored executives to release their workaday neuroses through acts of criminality, but the revelation presents Sinclair with a dilemma in that he is himself strongly attracted to this alternative lifestyle, a voyeur who protests at what he sees but cannot bring himself to look away.

This is a double-layered book, both mystery story and study of psychopathology. As a mystery it works well, presenting a traumatic event filtered through the perceptions of various eye witnesses, and allowing Paul to patiently slot together the pieces of the puzzle, albeit the final design won’t be a big surprise to anyone familiar with Ballard’s work (my biggest reservation about the book is that it’s a little too similar to Cocaine Nights), but it’s the psychology that gives the story backbone and makes it relevant. Eden-Olympia is Plato’s Republic, but with psychologists in charge rather than philosophers, and using the community as a laboratory for experiments in human behaviour. Wilder Penrose is mad, but like other Ballardian visionaries such as Vaughan from Crash there is a method to his madness, a twisted logic that casts him in the role of tempter and apologist for all that is worst in human nature. While the overall picture doesn’t quite ring true – Eden-Olympia seems a possible future rather than a probable one – much of the detail has the disturbing ring of familiarity. Ballard’s genius is to put his finger on present cultural trends (the work ethic of big companies, the new meritocracy, paintball battles as exercises in team building etc) and then, Cassandralike, take them that one step further to sound a note of warning. He may not be right in his predictions, but it would be a pity if we turned a deaf ear, particularly when they are so eloquently spoken.

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