The Kindness of Women

J. G. Ballard, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $19.95 (343p) ISBN 978-0-374-18110-9
Ballard is a brilliant writer whose Empire of the Sun has been his only major commercial success to date in this country. That mesmerizing novel, based on his childhood in 1930s Shanghai and internment by the Japanese, finds a sequel here. It takes the (lightly fictionalized) events of the author's life through three turbulent decades to end, ironically, with the making of the movie, with the narrator as a bemused extra, and his lifelong obsessions--with America, with planes, car crashes and the fantasies of technology--apparently exorcised. Women is a poignantly vivid account of Ballard's radically dislocated life in which the only constants have been an abiding love for his children and the variety of emotional and erotic consolations provided by a number of different, beautifully drawn women. Beginning with young Jamie back in embattled Shanghai, the novel follows him through return to England, an abortive fling at medical school and a try at flying for the R.A.F. before he settles into an idyllic marriage and the birth of his children--symbolically, in a Thames-side community next door to the great film studios where Empire would one day be recreated. The accidental death of his wife, hitting him, and the reader, with horrifying suddenness, is followed by years of bleakness, including drug experiments in the dizzy '60s, and a gradual return to calm resignation as some of his old friends die off around him. The story's outline may sound banal, but Ballard writing at the top of his powers offers an immediacy that is often visceral. His eye has never been more cinematic, and his love scenes, sexually explicit and often of older people no longer in their physical prime, are touchingly human and moving. But much is moving here: the way Ballard and the children cope with Miriam's death, the changes in a wild bohemian girl as she ages, the cancer death of a friend, the saving of a small girl from drowning. The Kindness of Women is full of scenes and moments that linger hauntingly in the mind, a piercingly honest, vibrant record of a very contemporary life. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/30/1991
Release date: 10/01/1991
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