+ THORACIC DROP: < Deposit > news appropriate to this site.

+ AUTOGEDDON: Subscribe to Ballardian & receive automatic email updates

JGB: A 'billionaire' in Shepperton?

Author: • Jan 22nd, 2009 •

Category: alternate worlds, Ballardosphere, biography, celebrity culture, film, Shanghai, Shepperton

I thought I’d share a lovely comment from Vicky, a reader of my Shepperton photo essay (which reminds me: I’m still to post the second part. I hope to do that very soon, even if it is almost a year late):

Growing up [in Shepperton] from 1987–1998 I knew the mysterious J G Ballard lived in the house next door to my sister’s best friend Tara. Your beautiful photographs bring back so many memories for me, especially the curly bridge from the end of my road. Living there and walking past his house every day I never once laid eyes on the man himself but so many stories circulated about him that he was almost like a mythical character. We believed he was a billionaire but he refused to leave his semi in Shepperton and that he had a car in his living room. I’m sure there were some nudist rumours too. Does he still live there?

A billionaire! Not quite

One of the things I really love about Thomas Cazals’ Ballard docudrama is the way it taps into this mythical strata, exaggerating it for supreme comic effect (but still with all the affection due our favourite writer). I think I agree with Toby Litt, who said on his panel at Kosmopolis that he sometimes wishes Ballard had never excavated at length his Shanghai background in interviews.

What would we be left with? How should we fill in the gaps, answer the questions asked of us by his work, without the distorting lens of biography? With musings similar to Vicky and Thomas, trying to make sense of this warped genius who seems to have drifted into our reality from a parallel dimension, where he is indeed enjoying a hearty laugh at our expense.

Find all posts by

Older: «

5 Responses »

  1. I agree, Simon… Empire of the Sun was a rosetta stone of images… but like everything else, they lost a lot of their mystery when explained. Hmmm… if you think about it, after the final translation service, Kindness Of Women, JG never really went back to Shanghai again… and the plots went from private to public psychosis…

  2. ‘Translation service’! I like that. I agree about the later books, however the spectre of Lunghua is never far away. For example, what do the hostages in the Metro-Centre, bathing in soda water and scavenging for food, remind you of?

  3. My family? OK, I see your point, altho JG does manage to not have the Metro-Centre’s interior swimming pool empty… and tricky Dick Pearson seems to go through his own kind of beach fatigue… and yes, KC’s kinky konsumers reminds one of the Lunghuaese confused over the wealth of goodies falling from US bombers in EOTS. Lemmie squirm out of this gracefully by suggesting perhaps JG isn’t so obviously involved with his Shanghai images in the later work.

  4. Am I right in thinking that JGB has sent his hand-written manuscripts to a woman living in the same street as him for close to his entire career? Has anyone ever done an interview with her? I think it would be interesting to read what their relationship entails and what she thinks as she’s typing up JGB’s novels. Like Kerouac after typing up Naked Lunch for Burroughs, I can imagine that this anonymous housewife has had many sleepless nights………

  5. I reckon the likes of Super Cannes and Millenium People also are reminiscent of JGB’s time in Shanghai. His parents’ comfortable middle-class lifestyle of cocktail parties was disrupted by the war; hence JGB disrupts the pleasant lifestyle of Paul Sinclair and also the main character of MP whose name I can’t remember!

Leave a Reply