Author JG Ballard
Year of publication 1973
Publisher Fourth Estate
‘Pretentious Wank Fodder’ is how this book was first described to me, and that was by the person who was recommending it, so that might give you an idea of how this book review is going to go before you we go any further.
The book follows James Ballard after he is involved in a car crash in which the driver of the other car is killed. After his recovery, Ballard meets Vaughan, the man who has been following him since his accident. Vaughan is obsessed with car crashes and awakens Ballard’s car crash fetishism. The two travel around London engaging in more and more explicit acts within the confines of the car as Vaughan steers towards his ultimate goal of dying in a blazing car crash with his obsession, Elizabeth Taylor.
I finished reading this book a while ago but I’ve been putting off doing this review, mainly because I had a difficult time trying to write a plot synopsis. This is one of my first problems with this book. There is no plot. Nothing happens in this book. It’s basically just a series of events that don’t really culminate in anything. You can argue, I suppose, that they build up to Vaughan’s death in his very last car crash. His whole story is his pursuit of death in a horrific crash with Elizabeth Taylor, which he eventually gets, though not with as much drama as he was hoping for. But even this ending is told to us at the very beginning. In the first line in fact. It’s difficult to get invested in a story you already know the ending to.
There is one moment, involving Vaughan and Ballard, that is alluded to throughout the book and I thought was being built up a lot, but was quite anti-climactic by the time it actually happened. I won’t give too much away in case it ruins anything for any other readers, but if this is the culminating scene that the reader is supposed to be on the edge of their seats for, then prepare to be disappointed.
I know that sometimes a book can get away with not having a strong plot, but it has to have some pretty strong characters to make up for it. Unfortunately, as you’ve probably guessed, this book doesn’t. There is no likeable character in this book. I know that this is something that can sometimes work, Gillian Flynn uses unlikeable characters perfectly in her novel Dark Places, but unfortunately Ballard doesn’t pull it off quite as well. The characters aren’t relatable in any way in Crash. I personally don’t know anyone who gets sexually aroused from car crashes, I don’t know about you. I know that shouldn’t be an issue, there’s plenty of books with characters that have quirks and interests that the reader doesn’t that are thoroughly enjoyable. Not many readers of American Psycho would have the homicidal tendencies of Patrick Bateman, but that, in my opinion, is one of the best written books I’ve ever read. But Crash just doesn’t do it well. Reading itmade me feel alienated. I couldn’t fully engage with this book because I couldn’t see any of the characters in real life situations.
It’s difficult for me to say whether or not I would recommend this book to anyone. I think it caters to a very specific type of taste and unfortunately it’s not mine, but that’s not to say that it’s not someone else’s. The person who recommended this book to me was seventeen when he first read it. He loved it then. Having read it since (he’s now twenty three) he has no clue what made him like it so much. Maybe that’s the demographic Ballard was aiming for, horny teenage boys.
I guess I just didn’t really ‘get’ this book. It was written in the seventies long before I was actually born. Maybe because of my generation or my age it just doesn’t really hit home for me. I know that Crash is a book with a message. Ballard was trying to get across his belief that technology is what forms us as people, that it controls us rather than the other way around. I understand that point, maybe in this age of smartphones and unlimited internet it’s more true than ever. But Ballard just doesn’t convince me. He de-familiarises cars and crashes and things like that, making his situations and characters unrelatable. It just doesn’t work as an argument for me. If someone can change my mind then please go ahead. I’d love to hear from someone who liked the book, I’m interested to hear that argument. But for now, I’ll stick to giving it two massive thumbs down.