Kris McCracken's Reviews > The Drowned World

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
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May 22, 2011

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Read from May 22 to 26, 2011

The Drowned World is a 1962 sci-fi novel by J. G. Ballard that differs a little bit from most post-apocalyptic fiction. The central character, rather than being disturbed by the end of the old world, embraces the changed existence that is coming.

It’s an interesting little book. Ballard has done well to create a detailed and believable scenario that explains the apocalypse that spurs the story: changed astronomical conditions has caused solar radiation that has melted the polar ice-caps and rapidly increased worldwide temperatures, leaving the countries on the Equator uninhabitable and the cities of northern Europe and America (and presumably south too) submerged in tropical lagoons.

Yet this is but detail. Ballard really sets out to explore the impact of this environmental shift on the collective unconscious desires of the central characters. The Drowned World is a place where natural catastrophe has altered the real world into a kind of dream landscape, which causing the central characters to regress mentally.

It contains a complex psychosocial construct that I will admit to not being entirely convinced by, but a narrative device more than convincing enough to kick the story along. In the same way as psychoanalysis reconstructs a traumatic situation in order to release repressed material, Ballard’s rapidly changing world has plunged a few of the survivors into a psychological regression back to a long biological imperative rooted in the Triassic past.

It’s a well constructed tale that keeps you going. I do like the very different approach that liberation (in terms of the central character) lays not in the fight for maintaining the concept of ‘normality’, but in embracing the concepts of regression and devolution to prior ways of living.

Thought provoking and well written. Very much worth a look.
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