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Rushing to Paradise by J.G. Ballard

Rushing to Paradise (1994)

by J.G. Ballard

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Environmental horror story.

Neil Dempsey, a 16 yo boy still recovering from the death of his father, is dragged into the ecological campaign, "Save the Albatross", led by the mysterious Doctor Barbara Rafferty. During their first trip to the island of Saint-Esprit Neil to protest against the French military occupation is shot in the ankle, making him an instant hero to the environmental movement. On the back of Neil's new-found fame, Rafferty is able to fund a new better campaign against the French on the tropical island. On board the Dugong, in addition to Neil and Rafferty, are - Kimo, who dreams of a new Hawaiian kingdom; David Carline, president of a small pharmaceutical company with a penchant for participating on do-gooding missions; Professor Saito, a botanist, and his wife come assistant; Monique, an air stewardess whose father was one of France's leading ecologists; and, Malcolm and Janet Bracewell, film-makers.

Upon reaching Saint-Esprit the second time the French attempt to stop them by ramming the Dugong, resulting in the death of Malcolm Bracewell, all captured on film, which creates a media storm resulting in the French leaving the island. It also makes Saint-Esprit the holiday choice of every environmental campaigner, and the island is swamped with people and donations. Rafferty announces that the island will be another ark, a place to protect all the endangered species of the earth. As the stream of people and materials continues Rafferty eventually cracks and engineers situations to destroy all the supplies and close the island off - returning the island to purer simpler place. Inevitably, tensions mount as supplies run out but Rafferty organises a new society, one in which the men are surplus to requirement, with the exception of Neil, who being young and healthy could be of potential use. The men start to suffer from unknown diseases, rumours of the French returning start growing, and the body count keeps growing.

All the elements we expect from Ballard are here - a mysterious doctor whose motives may not be what they seem; a closed environment that is both paradisaical and dangerous; a motley group of individuals with various pyschopathological reasons for colluding with disaster. The protagonist, Neil, appears to be a spiritual companion to Jim from Empire of the Sun. He even shares similar nuclear dreams -

The power of the atomic test explosions, portents of a now forgotten apocalypse, had played an important part in drawing him to the pacific. As he screened cold-war newsreels for the modern-history classes in the film school theatre he stared in awe at the vast detonations over the Eniwetok and Bikini lagoons, sacred sites of the twentieth-century imagination. But he could never admit this to anyone, and even felt vaguely guilty, as if his fascination with nuclear weapons and electro-magnetic death had retrospectively caused his father's cancer.
It was this sideways look at aspects of modern technological culture that first piqued my interest Ballard - it seemed that was a writer of modernity, while so many of his contemporaries were essentially still writing 19th century novels. But times change and the nuclear dreams of Neil seem forced in this work, a homage to better earlier works.

In fact that is the problem with the whole novel - we have been here too often, the scenery may have changed but the story remains the same. (To be honest, Ballard always uses the same plot - how successful each novel is is down to Ballard's engagement with the subject matter). That's not to say there is nothing to enjoy here, even lesser Ballard is worth the effort. Rafferty's attempt to recreate Eden and produce a paradise with no men is fun, as is her murderous rampage (Neil finding the bodies in the greenhouse is a nice nod to classic detective fiction); using the zoo stuffed full of rare animals as a larder - Rafferty, the saviour becomes the angel of destruction. There are some good satiric jabs at the environmental movement, feminism, the weaknesses of men, etc, but they are nice soft targets. This is Ballard going through the motions, with the result being a solid professional read. When this novel was first published most critics were writing Ballard off as a spent force but a few years later he was to embark on a series of novels that cemented his reputation as one of the best post-war British novelists.

Not prime Ballard but still worth a read. (It could be that first-time Ballard readers may enjoy this more, not being so au fair with Ballard's techniques). ( )
1 vote Jargoneer | May 1, 2009 |
I read "Crash" a while back. Everything that happened in the book from beginning to end was completely unbelievable, but still I quite liked it. It was somehow compelling, like the car crashes it described. The characters were unreal, human emotions and motivations were absent, the plot meandered through more and more ridiculous territory, and yet, still, I quite liked it. The vision of the world was so stunningly weird and recognisable at the same time.

Rushing to Paradise is similar to Crash in that nothing in it is remotely believable. But, unlike Crash, it is not remotely compelling. Perhaps it is simply the premise that I disagree with. The dystopic vision of a soul-dead society obsessed with sex and cars and death was something I could buy into. The snide vision of environmentalists and feminists as naive and/or psychotic man-hating lunatics is not so appealing.

There's also the familiar and, to me, endlessly annoying "Lord of the Flies" assumption - take people out of a rule-based environment for a few months and they'll become mad, murderous, paint-wearing, totem-worshipping savages. It's a highly retrogressive (very un-Ballardian) view, which naturally leads us to the conclusion that we need a good strong government to save us from ourselves. I'm afraid I just don't buy it. Maybe I'm naive myself, but I honestly believe that if you put a random group of people on a desert island, they'll come up with a reasonably sensible way of surviving as a group until they get rescued. It's what humans have done very successfully for thousands of years. Most of the savagery, as I see it, has come from governments.

So maybe that's why I didn't like this book. My own political prejudices clouding my judgement. The environmentalists, for example, are endlessly counterproductive, from the moment their boat becomes beached on a coral reef and emits a "huge oil slick" to the time when they start eating the endangered animals they've come to the island to protect. Halfway through, evidently feeling he has skewered the greens effectively, Ballard veers abruptly towards feminists. All the men start mysteriously dying, the women shave their heads, and the only man left on the island is kept alive purely to impregnate the women. Shaven-headed women taking over and reducing men to the role of sperm-producing entities to be discarded when no longer useful - it's the ultimate male fear. And it's utterly absurd.

I'm sure, though, that it's not just politics that made me hate this. The writing in this book was definitely more pedestrian than in Crash. Crash felt hallucinatory, somehow; this was dull. Here, Ballard seems more aware of the absurdity of the concept, and tries to paper over it with over-long psychological explanations of the character's motives (why does Neil, a non-environmentalist, nuclear-obsessed "youth", go on the environmentalist expedition? Oh yeah, we are reminded endlessly, it's because Dr Barbara, the leader who becomes a psychotic man-killing lunatic, is a replacement parent figure, etc. etc.). No real redeeming features on this one - just didn't work for me. ( )
  AndrewBlackman | Sep 13, 2008 |
A gripping and terrifying story of a colony of eco-feminists voluntarily stranded on a South Sea island collapsing into violence and insanity.

Death oozes off the page.

http://www.spikemagazine.com/0901ballardreview.php ( )
  georgematt | Jul 8, 2007 |
Whoa, I wasn't expecting much of this. I became interested in Ballard because of his connection to the psychogeographic movement (he may not know he's connected, but according to experts he, apparently, is). Not sure how I could comment on this book without giving anything away, but think a weird combination of Lord of the Flies, the Handmaid's Tale (bent by gender) and perhaps a dash of Naked Lunch. ( )
  colinsky | May 23, 2007 |
Showing 4 of 4
A cross between Greenpeace-gone-black and Golding's Lord of the Flies, Rushing to Paradise is Ballard's most powerful novel in years, a terrifying, all-too-real "what if." Which is exactly what Ballard does best, what-iffing Armageddon-like possibilities in this paradise we call Earth.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0006548148, Paperback)

J.G. Ballard - author of Crash and Empire of the Sun - explores the extremes of ecology and feminism in this highly acclaimed modern fable. Dr Barbara Rafferty is a fearless conservationist, determined to save a rare albatross from extinction. Her crusade gains widespread coverage when earnest young environmentalist Neil Dempsey is shot during an ill-fated attempt to rescue the bird from its Pacific island habitat, Saint-Esprit. Support for the conservationists grows and well-wishers flock to the island, bringing with them specimens of other endangered creatures to be protected by Dr Barbara and her crew. The island seems a new Eden. But is the intense Dr Barbara as altruistic as she appears? Why are the islanders committing acts of self-sabotage? And what,s keeping Neil alive while the other men sicken? A classic exploration of the extremes of human behaviour from J.G Ballard, this is a brilliantly unsettling novel in which all preconceptions are overthrown.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:05 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The rise and fall of a cult leader. After losing her medical license, Dr. Barbara Rafferty turns environmentalist to protest French nuclear testing in the Pacific. The campaign attracts media attention, money flows and she sets up a commune on an atoll, an experiment which ends in bloodshed.… (more)

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