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The Kindness of Women (1991)

Author: • Sep 7th, 2006 •

Category: bibliography, humour, sexual politics, Shepperton

Ballardian: The Kindness of Women

OPENING LINE:
“Every afternoon in Shanghai during the summer of 1937 I rode down to the Bund to see if the war had begun.”

I have a real soft spot for The Kindness of Women, an autobiographical work that’s loosely described as a sequel to Empire of the Sun. Here, Ballard is honest, self-deprecating and wildly vivid in laying out the tracks of his adult life. While it’s actually a fictional ‘reimagining’ of Ballard’s life rather than a straight recounting (which is what all autobiographies essentially are, if only they’d care to admit it), Kindness is essential for anyone looking to delve into the motivations behind works such as Crash and the 70s Ballard that has been so mythologised.

And it’s very funny, too, full of keenly applied and intentional humour, like this description of being serviced by a prostitute (p. 250): “Like a fisherwoman at an angling hole, patiently waiting for a bite, she moved about on her heels, the tip of my penis between her labia.”

I can see Ballard’s wry smile behind the typewriter every time I read this, his passive, avuncular expression tinged with mildly titillated bemusement at the abstraction sex has become.

Some quotes from the Grafton edition:

Ballard is the most modern of writers; his art engages with the artefacts and obsessions of the second half of this century in a manner and with an intensity unmatched by any other writer I can think of. The book is full of memserising writing, classic examples of the Ballard Style, paragraphs and pages that disturb and enthrall… A force is operating in this astonishing book which is hard to resist.”

William Boyd, Daily Telegraph

“It has a brutal spine — plenty of hardware and violence and graphic and clinical sex scenes. But it is also, in its own chilly way, enormously tender and likeable with huge vision and ambition.”

Sunday Times

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One Response »

  1. Wonderful book – I have now read it so many times I know exactly which passages can make me laugh and which can make me cry…and they still work.

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