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The Day of Creation (1987)

Author: • Sep 16th, 2006 •

Category: bibliography, flying, television

Ballardian: The Day of Creation

OPENING LINE:
“Dreams of rivers, like scenes from a forgotten film, drift through the night, in passage between memory and desire.”

Another misunderstood book in the Ballardian canon, although Samuel R. Delany, in his 1998 review, gives it a red-hot go. Still, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was reviewing Kingdom Come, so similar are the critical tools he uses to those of present-day reviewers sticking the boot into KC. Guess we haven’t come very far, after all:

“In the unnamed Central African republic of the English writer J. G. Ballard’s new novel, two political factions are vying for power: on one side are the guerrillas of General Harare, once a dental student, now afflicted with boils and bad teeth. On the other is the police chief Captain Kagwa, nominally more friendly to the resident whites but with his own obsessive priorities, first of which is his ancient Mercedes and second the television crew that arrives at the town of Port-la-Nouvelle to document his suppression of the Harare insurgents.

Mallory, an Englishman who has come to this African country to run a clinic for the World Health Organization, has dreamed of bringing water to the arid land, from which Lake Kotto has receded only two years before. To that end he’s been drilling the lake bed. With the execution temporarily averted, Kagwa assigns the doctor to guide a crew of bulldozers repairing the Port-la-Nouvelle airstrip. As a machine unearths the stump of a huge forest oak, the roots pull free and water oozes into the hole – water that rises, spreads, till it becomes a river stretching to the north like ”a third Nile” with its source somewhere in the southern mountains.

Certainly from close-up, in paragraph after paragraph, Mr. Ballard constructs a moody and well-modeled landscape with as fine a writerly intelligence as we might hope for. But almost as frequently, when the actions of his characters come under his writerly eye, his account becomes thin, his dialogue wooden. The long view gives his book a rich allegorical air, a sense of quest and a steady rise in action – helicopter raids, blown-up dams, mysterious sexual trysts and clashes with Captain Kagwa – to suggest a near-classic adventure. But when we move in to look at the people, the relations between them, or the simple succession of events, things get very cloudy.”

Samuel R. Delany. ‘Saved by the TV Crew’.

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2 Responses »

  1. DELANEY: “Things get very cloudy” TRANSLATION: “This book went right over my head but I’m going to embarrass myself by reviewing it anyway”

  2. Okay, this happens to be a favorite Ballard novel of mine. Such an engrossing read, a highly surreal landscape populated by characters with typical Ballardian obsessions. It also reminds me of Ballard’s earlier novels in some ways: the Drowned World, The Drought, The Crystal World. His descriptions of the river landscape and how it changes are just masterpieces of imagination. A Sleeper among his novels.

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