Edward's Reviews > Concrete Island

Concrete Island by J.G. Ballard
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May 17, 12

bookshelves: fantasy
Read from May 09 to 17, 2012


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Reading Progress

05/10/2012 page 42
23.0% "So detailed that you could draw a map from JBB's descriptions. Not that it is bad but JGB does it with such spare prose that you can vizualize the scenery while reading about it; maybe that's one of the secrets to the attraction of his style."
05/12/2012 page 66
37.0% "What I like about JGB's prose style is the absence of the word "like" used along with an analogous descriptor as well his limited use of quotes to delimit mono/dialogue. He opts for the stream of consciousness which puts you in the narrator’s frame of mind."
05/13/2012 page 71
39.0% "JGB’s frequently mentions the grass on the island & his descriptions invoke a sense of willfulness into it. The island’s domain expands to include the remnants of an Edwardian neighborhood, possibly JGB's childhood village in Shanghai."
05/14/2012 page 103
57.0% "Robert Maitland encounters a couple of other inhabitants on the island. Up to this point the story was beginning to take on the feel of William Golding's Pincher Martin or The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin‎."
05/16/2012 page 126
70.0% "Jane & Proctor are reminiscent of Miranda & Caliban in Shakespeare's Tempest or Esmeralda & Quasimodo in Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Like The Tempest, Maitland is a castaway & the brutish Proctor becoming the protector which incorporates both Caliban and Quasimodo where Maitland becomes Esmeralda. If this was JGB’s intent is another story & I’d be surprised that this observation was unnoticed by others."
05/17/2012 page 142
79.0% "JGB defines the island’s boundaries in terms of sounds & the grass takes on qualities of a harp. Maitland establishes his authority by humiliating Proctor then domesticates him in what becomes a parasitic relationship."
05/17/2012 page 180
100.0% "Maitland’s visions and urges become gruesome as he sheds the veneer of his humanity imagining it as the shedding of his wounds. He recognizes his desire escape human feeling by monetary exchange for physical needs, transcends his former personality, and no longer desires to escape because he has dominated the island which is now his refuge as it was for Proctor and Jane."
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message 1: by Edward (last edited May 17, 2012 09:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Edward Ballard’s physical descriptions of the Concrete Island are so well detailed that you could draw a map from them. He is able to accomplish this by limiting the domain of his story and does it with such spare prose that you can visualize the scenery while reading about it; maybe that's one of the secrets to the attraction of his elusive style. What I particularly like about Ballard’s prose is the limited use of the word "like" used along with an analogous descriptor as well his limited use of quotes to delimit mono/dialogue. He instead opts for a stream of consciousness which plugs you directly into the character’s mind.

Ballard twists and distorts the reader’s perception of the island’s landscape into some alternate reality by defining its boundaries in terms of traffic sounds and enlarging the island’s domain from a small triangular patch of wasteland to include the remnants of an Edwardian neighborhood. The latter is eerily suggestive the author’s childhood memories of his life in the British compound of pre-war Shanghai. Adding to this sense of the fantastic is Ballard’s frequent mention of the island’s tall grass throughout the story; his descriptions invoke willfulness into it and at one point it takes on qualities of a green harp.

Maitland, the main character, is a castaway on an island bordered by motor traffic overpasses and to some readers this story is reminiscent of the Robinson Crusoe story; but depending on the reader’s repertoire, Ballard’s story can invoke other parallels such as William Golding's: The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin‎ with its bleak isolation of a delusional survivor or Shakespeare's: The Tempest and Victor Hugo’s: The Hunchback of Notre Dame when midway through the story Maitland encounters a couple of other inhabitants on the island, Jane (a youthful runaway) and the brutish Proctor (a cast off acrobat). These two are reminiscent of Miranda and Caliban or Esmeralda and Quasimodo depending on how their relationship with Maitland evolves. Whether it was Ballard’s intent to draw these parallels or it is the author’s subconscious at work is another story but I’d be surprised that this observation would go unnoticed by others.

Maitland establishes his authority over the island by humiliating Proctor and then domesticates him into what becomes a bizarre parasitic relationship. Maitland’s visions and urges become gruesome while he begins to imagine that he shedding the wounds he received during his automobile crash. However, what we see is the shedding of the veneer of his humanity through various devious acts that he perpetrates upon the other two characters.

Maitland ultimately arrives at a minor epiphany when recognizes that what he is really trying to escape is not the island, which is now becoming his refuge, but the burden of human feelings. He accomplishes this by establishing a new balance in his simplistic universe by equating token monetary exchanges for his physical needs. This allows him to transcend his former personality in order to escape the guilt, remorse, and pain resulting from human relationships.


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