J. G. Ballard's memoir ponders the connection between his childhood internment and his sci-fi obsessions
Miracles of Life:
Shanghai to Shepperton, An Autobiography
by J. G. Ballard
$25.95 List Price
Practically the opposite of a tell-all, J. G. Ballard’s memoir, Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton, suggests that this is an author who said all he wanted to say in his fiction. First published in the UK in 2008, a year before his death from cancer at the age of seventy-eight, the genial and reflective Miracles of Life adds little to what faithful readers will have already gleaned about the workings of his mind and the contours of his life from various interviews, his provocative science fiction, and most of all from his two autobiographical novels, Empire of the Sun (1984) and The Kindness of Women (1991).
Drawn from his experiences in Shanghai before and after the outbreak of World War II, including the two years he spent as an adolescent at an internment camp, Empire, Ballard’s best-known (and most conventional) novel, is widely seen as the Rosetta stone of an author so singular his name has long doubled as an adjective. His tumultuous boyhood, many have noted, is the wellspring of what “Ballardian” has come to mean, the source, in his uncanny science-fiction novels, of his signature imagery (drained swimming pools, abandoned hotels, empty airfields) and recurring themes (the irrationality of humans, the adaptability of the imagination). In Miracles of Life Ballard makes peace with this psychoanalytic reading: “For a long time I resisted this, but I accept now that it is almost certainly true.”
An avowed Freudian, Ballard the memoirist readily submits himself to psychobiographical criticism. With the same restraint and lucidity that defined so much of his fiction,
REGISTERED USERS of bookforum.com and BOOKFORUM SUBSCRIBERS have access to this article, but must be logged in to view it. If you are not a registered user of bookforum.com, please create your free login here. If you are a subscriber, but haven’t activated your online account, please do so here.
SUBSCRIBE NOW for access to our online archives,* and receive the printed magazine for the discounted rate of $18 a year.**