Saturday, February 11, 2012
100 Books #13 - J.G. Ballard's THE CRYSTAL WORLD
Flawed as this short little novel is, I weep that our ideal time for a cinematic adaptation of it is past, for I can think of no team who could do it justice as Peter Greenaway and Sacha Vierney could have, and they don't work together anymore. But their mastery of light in cinema, especially as demonstrated in Drowning By Numbers and A Zed and Two Noughts, could alone bring Ballard's exquisite vision to the screen.
And there, I would love to see it. And Greenaway could maybe pep up the story a little.
I mention this because the play of light on the surfaces of the slowly (and sometimes not-so-slowly) transforming surfaces of the jungles in The Crystal World is very, very important. Very. Description of same makes up the bulk of its verbiage. Ballard, perhaps mesmerized by the very idea of his creation, took great pains to share its every sparkly, shiny, spiny detail. As such, there is some seriously gorgeous prose to be had in this book, and thus much enjoyment, if that is your thing.
It's possibly the first book ever for which one wishes one had sunglasses for one's mind's eye.
Dazzling as the book is -- and not just visually; the scientific explanation for how and why this is happening, involving theories about sub-atomic particles and space-time that I do not feel adequate to explaining here, is also quite dazzling -- it's also one of the most melancholy reads I've encountered since, say The Road. For there are some people, including a band of lepers led by the protagonist's ex-lover, want to be crystallized. To be crystallized is to have time, and thus the progress of the disease, stop; to be alive but to cease decaying. The fact that nothing else will ever happen to them again is just by the bye. Like the characters of Ballard's The Drowned World, most of this novel's cast comprises people half in love with death, or at least with the destruction of the human world and the seductive chance it offers them to be something else.
Combine this with yet another Conradian quest (Ballard must have had an even bigger boner for Conrad than your humble blogger does), up an African river, seeking a long-lost companion who has gone nuts in the jungle, and you almost have a really great novel. But somehow, perhaps its the extreme disinterest Ballard, and thus this reader, has in the characters peopling his frosty landscapes, perhaps it's just the depressing nature of all of this beauty, paging through this slim little novel felt like more of a chore than a delight. I'd still recommend it to anyone who values imagination and perfect prose, but with the caveat that such joys come with a price, and in this case, it's story. Ah, me.