Wednesday, 23 October 2013

J.G. Ballard, Kensal Green Cemetery




I discovered J.G. Ballard’s headstone when I literally stumbled over Harold Pinter’s in Kensal Green. I was examining the back of some mausoleum or other when I tripped over Pinter’s ground level gravestone. From muddy knees I looked up to see Ballard’s name carefully chiselled into the stone. It’s quite a coincidence that the two modern writers whose names have become adjectives are buried so close together (Ballardian (adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (born 1930), the British novelist, or his works (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments. Pinteresque (adj) reminiscent of the plays of Harold Pinter, the English dramatist (born 1930), noted for their equivocal and halting dialogue - Collins English Dictionary).

Ballard was born in 1930 in Shanghai where his father was a chemist at the Chinese subsidiary of a British textile company. During the second world war he was interned with his family at the Lunghua Internment camp, "I don't think you can go through the experience of war without one's perceptions of the world being forever changed,” he said later, “the reassuring stage set that everyday reality in the suburban west presents to us is torn down; you see the ragged scaffolding, and then you see the truth beyond that, and it can be a frightening experience." His most commercially successful novel ‘Empire of the Sun’ was based on his experiences in the camp.

Immediately after the war Ballard returned to the UK with his family, completed his secondary education, started studying medicine in Cambridge but gave it up to read English at Queen Mary College, joined the RAF for a year, married Helen Mary Matthews, started publishing stories, had three children, found full time work as assistant editor on the journal “Chemistry and Industry” and moved to Suburban Shepperton. From 1962 he took up writing full time. In 1964 His wife died and Ballard dedicated his life to bringing up his three children (he never remarried) and writing his novels of “dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.” His books seem at odds with a man whose life was, apart from the early days in Shanghai, wholly unexceptional.