In a ghastly and beautiful world, at once decaying and teeming with tropical life forms, London lies half-submerged beneath a vast lagoon that reflects the glow of a swollen sun. The world’s fauna has returned to the Age of the Reptiles – mosquitoes the size of dragonflies, massive water-spiders and giant iguanas. The Ritz still stands, the monument to an almost-vanished civilisation, and in it is Kerans, a scientist producing futile biological reports. Holed up in a penthouse suite, witnessing the end of the hotel’s grand history, Kerans is coolly aware that his ‘odyssey’ of sinking cities will be the last phase of his own life too. Simultaneously he knows that his withdrawal from human company is the sign of a ‘careful preparation for a radically new environment’. Even his affair with the exquisite Beatrice Dahl – the only woman in the waterlogged capital – has the feel of an elegy, for he knows that ‘their only true meeting ground would be in their dreams’. As peculiar nightmares begin to afflict the world’s human survivors, his speculations prove only too prescient. In the events that follow, gleefully led by the diabolical Strangman – a white-suited, ‘half buccaneer, half devil’ – Kerans is drawn towards a lonely bid to maintain the new identity he has forged.
This haunting tale of de-evolution amid the fetid swamps and submarine cities of a second Triassic Age is, as Will Self says in his introduction, the ‘pre-eminent’ example of J. G. Ballard’s early apocalyptic fiction. Published in 1962 and set in 2145, its potent evocation not just of a changed physical world, but of a collective human psyche ineluctably regressing, reflects Ballard’s later assertion that ‘each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory’. Exploring the emergence of archaic memories and behaviours in response to drastic environmental change, this is, in Ballard’s words, less a story of disaster than one of ‘psychic fulfilment’. James Boswell has created a series of striking illustrations, capturing the primordial landscapes of the drowned world and alluding to the psychological shifts running through this powerful novel.
Review by anon on 12th Sep 2013
"It was a pleasure reading this book. I love the binding and cover illustration. The book was a comfortable size for the hand. Ballard was an extraordinary writer, with a great deal of foresight. ..." [read more]