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Concrete island by J. G. Ballard
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Concrete island (original 1974; edition 1985)

by J. G. Ballard

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7661512,088 (3.69)17
Member:AlanPoulter
Title:Concrete island
Authors:J. G. Ballard
Info:London : Triad, 1985, c1973.
Collections:Your library
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Tags:science fiction

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Concrete Island by J. G. Ballard (1974)

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I completed a story recently in which a man gets on an airplane and lots of bad stuff happens. The plan for the story going in was that almost all the activity would take place on the plane; yet, I had so much fun writing it, I thought about turning it into a novel. But how do you turn a four and a half-hour plane flight into a novel, while keeping all the activity on the plane?

While pondering that, I flashed back to Stephen King's Gerald's Game, which I read years ago and don't remember much about, but do recall it took place almost entirely with a woman handcuffed to a bed. While writing my airplane story, I remembered Gerald's Game and thought, HOW DID HE MAKE THAT NOVEL LENGTH?

At any rate, try as I might, my airplane story clocked in at about 14,000 words. I could make it no longer. Which brings me to J.G. Ballard's Concrete Island.

The action in Concrete Island begins almost immediately, when a man has a car accident on a busy highway and his car slides down a steep incline into a deep culvert created by the intersections of lots of busy highways. Nobody sees him go in.

The edge of the culvert high above is surrounded by bushes and shrubs. The man below can hear cars wooshing by, but his shouts and screams go unheard. The inclines are such that he can't climb his way out. Thus begins the tale of a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, trapped on a desert island in the middle of civilization, who must learn to fend for himself for the days, weeks, or months it might take for him to be rescued . . . that is, if he's ever found at all.

I admit it's been a long time since I read this one, but I do remember it being hellishly entertaining, and I remember thinking what a simple idea to turn into a long and interesting novel. Maybe someday, I'll be able to do that.

Not yet. ( )
  BrendanPMyers | Jun 23, 2014 |
3.5 stars. Not SF as I ordinarily think of it, more a quasi dystopia set in the present-day. Affluent Robert Maitland crashes his Jaguar on a precipitous traffic island such as we see all the time occupying the waste ground between ramps and highways. He climbs the grade to street level, but the traffic's too fast and there are no shoulders. He struck in the hand by an oblivious passing motorist. Then inflammation and sets in; his injuries keep him feverish in the wrecked Jag. When he's ambulatory again, though barely, the island begins to reveal heretofore unsuspected features. Maitland comes across the foundations of an old suburban neighborhood razed long ago to make way for the interchange. He discovers the basements of old rowhouses, a cinema, Cold War-era air-raid shelters, a breaker's yard, etc. Then he realizes he's not alone. By this time, though he won't admit it, or won't accept it--his position is never made entirely clear--he doesn't want to leave the traffic island. Memories of his previous existence--his lovers, profession, friends--grow hazy, distant.

The writing is almost wholly vivid description. If anything, it might be said to be overly described. This leaves the reader with an almost vertiginous effect, as if the traffic island were somehow in motion, instead of static. (It's times like these when I realize I read too closely. Certainly the breezy reader, rushing ever onward solely for the sake of plot, would hardly notice.) Except for a rare turgid patch where a metaphor or a bit of description doesn't quite work, the novel is highly readable. I think Ballard's later stories and especially his first memoir, Empire of the Sun, show a subtler writer at work, but Concrete Island is hardly amateurish. It simply represents an earlier stage in his artistic development, and for those of us who like to track a writer's themes and obsessions over time, it may be all the more interesting because of that. Highly recommended. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
This struck me as a condensed version of Ballard's High Rise -- perhaps distilled would be a better term? It's a combination of hyper-realistic minutia and mythic dreamtime. I felt I was reading a commentary on society and man's place within it, more than experiencing a narrative. But I enjoyed the examination. ( )
  Michael.McGuire | May 22, 2014 |
This is an archetypal Ballard offering. A motorway driver, Robert Maitland, crashes his car over an embankment into an overgrown island of weeds and rusted metal between three motorways where, trapped and unable to climb out he is stuck and has to resort to ingenious attempts to try to attract the attention of the outside world and to survive in this isolated micro-world. In the second half of the novel, he meets two other strange characters on this island, and the struggles between them become a metaphor for Maitland's lack of control over his life and, like a long term prisoner, he becomes almost reluctant to leave the seductively welcoming isolation of his surroundings. I didn't like a lot of this interaction and I thought the novel might have worked better as a short story or novella without it. Interesting and thought provoking as most Ballard novels, but with the same sense of lack of realism as many of them - are we really to believe no-one saw or heard the crash in the first place? ( )
  john257hopper | Apr 14, 2014 |
Maitland crashes his jaguar down a steep embankment at the confluence of three motorways onto an island (or so he refers to it since it is effectively cut off from the surrounding city). He becomes seriously injured and is unable to escape despite several attempts and is struggling to meet his basic needs for survival. Enter: the natives. I can't say that this was a good story, yet I was entranced all day. ( )
  dandelionroots | Oct 10, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031242034X, Paperback)

On a day in April, just after three o'clock in the afternoon, Robert Maitland's car crashes over the concrete parapet of a high-speed highway onto the island below, where he is injured and, finally, trapped. What begins as an almost ludicrous predicament soon turns into horror as Maitland—a wickedly modern Robinson Crusoe—realizes that, despite evidence of other inhabitants, this doomed terrain has become a mirror of his own mind. Seeking the dark outer rim of the everyday, Ballard weaves private catastrophe into an intensely specular allegory.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:23 -0400)

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