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'My name is Maitland, Donald Maitland…'

Author: • Feb 9th, 2008 •

Category: Ballardosphere, enviro-disaster

The Transatlantis post on Ballard’s first novel, The Wind from Nowhere, reminded me of an observation I meant to post here a while ago.

The last time I read Wind, I was struck by the James Bondish flavour towards the end. Why, there’s even a supervillain, Hardoon, holed up in his secret lair, surrounded by paramilitary goons wearing the insignia of the villain’s secret army, ready to prove a point to the world. It can’t be denied that this is in fact the exact modus operandi of Blofeld, Goldfinger, Hugo Drax and the entire pantheon of super-rich, criminally minded megalomaniacs in the Bond universe.

In fact, have a look at this passage from Ballard’s book: where the name ‘Hardoon’ appears, I’ve replaced it with ‘Blofeld’, the archetypal Bond villain; where the protagonist’s name, ‘Maitland’, appears, I’ve replaced it with ‘Bond’.

Chapter 8: The Tower of Blofeld

As he woke his head was swinging like a piston from side to side.

A dozen arteries pounded angrily inside his skull, rivers of thudding pain. He opened his eyes and focused them with an effort. A powerfully-built guard in a black plastic uniform, a large white triangle on his helmet, was leaning over him, slapping his face with a broad open hand.

When he saw Bond’s eyes were open, he gave him a final vicious backhand cut, then snapped at the two guards holding Bond in his chair. They jerked him forward into a sitting position, then let go of his hands.

Gasping for air, Bond tried to control himself, spread his legs apart and pressed his shoulders against the stiff backrest of the chair. Above, fluorescent lighting shone across a low bare ceiling. In a few seconds his face had stopped stinging, and he lowered his eyes slowly.

Directly in front of him, across a wide crocodile-skin desk, sat a squat, broad-shouldered man in a dark suit. His head was huge and bull-like; below a high domed forehead were two small eyes, a short stump of nose, a mouth like a scar, and a jutting chin. The expression was sombre and menacing.

He surveyed Bond coldly, ignoring the red-flecked saliva Bond was wiping away from his bruised lips. Dimly, Bond recognized a face he had seen in a few rare magazine photographs. This, he realized, was Blofeld.

J.G. Ballard, The Wind from Nowhere (1961).

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Many’s the time Ian Fleming’s Bond has awoken from a beating by guards in a dingy room only to stare into the eyes of Blofeld/Dr No/Goldfinger. Note, too, Ballard’s attention to Hardoon/Blofeld’s cruel and menacing features, a classic Fleming trademark; I remember a description of Blofeld in Bond, for example, that zoomed in to the exact shape and texture of the man’s truncated ear lobes.

When I canvassed these thoughts elsewhere, Raymond replied:

I have thought that there are similarities between the early Ballard novels and the James Bond novels for a long time. It may be partly a period thing but it was mostly the role of the villain that made me think this and Strangman in The Drowned World always comes to mind in this respect.

But I’m convinced there’s more to it than a period thing, more than simply Ballard indulging in the shared action idiom of the times. OK, granted, at the time Ballard wrote Wind, Blofeld had just been introduced by Fleming in Thunderball (from the same year, 1961). But Dr No and Goldfinger had already firmly established the template. In fact the scene I’ve just quoted seems identical — in its air of casual, glamorous sadism — to the scene in Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953), where Bond is getting his nads thrashed by Le Chiffre’s carpet beater.

Sounds like Ballard had an Ian Fleming novel or two at hand when he embarked on that famous two-week holiday that produced his first book. (Funnily enough, I was also reminded of Fight Club. As Maitland and his crew watch Hardoon’s tower collapse, and the wind meekly dies down as if it was never there in the first place — or took place entirely within his head — I half expected Maitland to turn to the girl and say, “You met me at a very strange time in my life.”)

..:: Previously on Ballardian
The Wind from Nowhere is now a wind from somewhere

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2 Responses »

  1. One might even stretch the point (so to speak) and view the name Hardoon as a masculine equivalent of those authorial nods and winks such as Pussy Galore.

    Perhaps the Bondian dimension was something else about Ballard’s work that appealed to Kingsley Amis, he being a big Fleming fan who even wrote his own Bond novel, Colonel Sun.

  2. Yes, that’s an interesting point about Kingsley Amis; besides Colonel Sun, he also wrote a couple of Bond dossier-style books. But he went off Ballard when Atrocity Exhibition came out — and funnily enough, there’s nothing Bondian about that work.

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