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Super-Cannes by J. G. Ballard
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Super-Cannes (2000)

by J. G. Ballard

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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
A wonderful novel, oozing with millenarian angst and chock-full of Ballard’s favourite icons, played from his deck like tarot cards – the Grounded Pilot, the Closed Community, the Unhinged Doctor, the Sexy Car-Crash – with the theme, as always, having to do with the dark poles of eros and thanatos lurking just beneath the veneer of human society.

The plot involves Paul Sinclair, a former airman recovering from a plane crash, who accompanies his young wife Jane to an ultramodern business park on the French Riviera, where she is to work as an on-site physician. Paul gets drawn into uncovering the mystery surrounding Jane’s predecessor, who went on a killing spree and murdered ten people before being killed himself.

At first the place seems paradisiacal, full of rich happy people like something from the 30s – ‘a vanished world of Cole Porter and beach pyjamas, morphine lesbians and the swagger portraits of Tamara de Lempicka’. But something is very wrong at the Eden-Olympia complex: in each tiny, everyday detail there is an undercurrent of cheap sex, casual violence, sickness. (It is very Lynchian in that sense: god I wish Lynch would film this.) ‘Over the swimming pools and manicured lawns seemed to hover a dream of violence,’ we are told at one point; but often the hints are more subtle and unnerving. Innocuous body parts become creepy and upsetting as Ballard describes them:

My exposed big toes unsettled her, flexing priapically among the unswept leaves.

I love this sentence so much. It makes me laugh at how ridiculous it is, while also making me shudder because it works. There is more lurking menace when Paul and Jane arrive at their new home:

The house was silent, but somewhere in the garden was a swimming pool filled with unsettled water.

—Actually let me just stop there for a second so we can appreciate that admirable sentence. Doing a lot of work, isn’t it! Direct but efficient. Ballard goes on:

Reflections from its disturbed surface seemed to bruise the smooth walls of the house. The light drummed against Jane’s sunglasses, giving her the edgy and vulnerable look of a studio visitor who had strayed into the wrong film set.

The reference to the movie business is an example of Ballard’s tendency to choose his similes and metaphors from the realms of modern technology and celebrity culture. The world of Super-Cannes is not natural but rather scientific, medical: a flag flutters ‘like the trace of a fibrillating heart’, the sea is ‘smooth enough to xerox’, every hair on a fur stole is ‘as vibrant as an electron track in a cloud chamber’, crowds of tourists clump around the shop-fronts ‘like platelets blocking an artery’.

This is only the third or fourth Ballard novel I’ve read, but I’ve never enjoyed his cold, efficient prose style more than I did here. Some writers explore themes; Ballard dissects them, using a scalpel. Like his main influence, William Burroughs, and his main disciple, Will Self, Ballard sees social problems as a matter of pathology: sexual perversion for him is about psychosexual dysfuction; casual violence is about clinical psychopathy. This medicalisation can make for an eerie worldview, but it gives you some descriptive passages you wouldn’t get from any other writer. And for once, I genuinely cared about the characters here – I was really rooting for Paul and Jane to get out in one piece.

As well as being a mystery story, this is a stonking novel-of-ideas, and the main idea is this: if the modern world is making us all less sociable and more atomised, what might the psychological consequences be? Because the madness and violence at Eden-Olympia are intimately tied to the erosion of community that Ballard sees around him:

People find all the togetherness they need in the airport boarding lounge and the department-store lift. They pay lip service to community values but prefer to be alone.

Or again:

The Adolf Hitlers and Pol Pots of the future won’t walk out of the desert. They’ll emerge from shopping malls and corporate business parks.

I’m not sure I entirely accept Ballard’s thesis, or his speculation that ‘meaningless violence may be the true poetry of the new millennium’; but then I don’t think he does either – it’s thrown out there as a way of working with the issues. Watching him at work, scalpel in hand, is disturbing, thought-provoking, and enormously enjoyable. ( )
1 vote Widsith | May 11, 2013 |
This was quite a strange chilling one. Ballard has seized the fever that gripped (some of) us back in the 1990s as the millennium approached, asked himself some questions about where society was heading at the time and then produced this novel. In it, he constructs an artificial community which the great corporations of the day have founded as an ideal working environment. The trouble is, it’s too ideal.

As the staff work longer and longer hours, eschewing all sense of sociability, they gradually lose their minds. There is a remedy but it’s more horrific than our protagonist can grasp. For the most part, this reads more like a detective thriller as Paul tries to dig deeper into the mystery of why Dr David Greenwood, a fellow Brit, had murdered a number of colleagues in a shooting frenzy one day shortly before Paul arrives on the scene.

The novel’s strength lies in the way the author develops the surreal facade of perfection that is the community of Eden-Olympia. You know it’s not right even though the descriptions are of paradise. There’s something very clever about this writing and I think it must be in the way he describes the people. It just goes to show his skill in creating flawed characters against a flawless backdrop. And it works to create a jarring juxtaposition right through the novel. In fact, as the people become more flawed the close you get to them, the worse this becomes until the whole thing shatters.

I enjoyed it but it wasn’t as good a read as I expected. It asks questions of us as a society but, really also asks questions of us as individuals? What drives us and what keeps us sane? What do we need to keep a balance in our lives? To what extent can you artificially create a lifestyle without causing some monstrous cancer to develop inside the soul? Good questions. ( )
2 vote arukiyomi | Nov 25, 2011 |
The setting: a futuristic office park housing multinational corporations and their employees in soulless modern architecture on a hill overlooking the French Riviera. An important subject, given the power that people such as these have over the world economy and the livelihoods of millions.
The plot: a husband with time on his hands accompanies his wife when she is appointed staff physician to the futuristic office park. He gradually discovers that the well-tailored suits in the air-conditioned offices cover animal natures full of lust and violence.
The flaw: who cares? Knowing what our corporate masters do between nine and five as a matter of public record—their insistence on appropriating the gains accruing to their ventures while socializing the losses, their use of state power to maintain their privileges, the bland uniformity of speech and behavior they impose on their servants—how bothered should we be about what some of them may be getting up to after hours? We have the Wall Street Journal; what need for the National Enquirer? ( )
  KarlNarveson | Jul 5, 2010 |
Read the review on my blog. ( )
  johnbakeronline | May 21, 2010 |
Gritty and gruesome, this book is a look at the underbelly of the modern industrial elite. It makes a compelling argument against an over-intellectualism and hypocritical society where human emotion has no outlet and can, therefore, only be expressed in deviant ways. The construction is careful: it neither insults the reader nor progresses too cryptically so that the reader can follow the logic of this world, its crippling hold and its unique morality. A harsh critique of modern capitalism with a wonderful rebellious ending. ( )
  Cecilturtle | May 15, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. G. Ballardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tervaharju, HannuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The first person I met at Eden-Olympia was a psychiatrist, and in many ways it seems only too apt that my guide to this 'intelligent' city in the hills above Cannes should have been a specialist in mental disorders.
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Meaningless violence may be the true poetry of the new millennium.
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Book description
A couple - he an elderly amateur pilot, recently injured, and she a young hospital doctor - arrive in Eden-Olympia, a business park not unlike (and adjacent to) Sophia Antipolis. The death of her predecessor, and the deaths he was involved in, are key to layers of mystery and Ballardian disconnection.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312306091, Paperback)

Eden-Olympia is more than just a multinational business park, it is a virtual city-state in itself, built for the most elite high-tech industries. Isolated and secure, the residents lack nothing, yet one day, a doctor at the clinic goes on a suicidal shooting spree. Dr. Jane Sinclair is hired as his replacement, and her husband Paul uncovers the dangerous psychological vents that maintain Eden-Olympia’s smoothly-running surface.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:36 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Paul and his wife Jane move to France so that she can take up a post as doctor to the new community of Eden-Olympia. According to its resident psychologist, the community is a place where one is absolutely free to "board the escalator of possibility". And Jane does just that.… (more)

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