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The Crystal World

J. G. Ballard

Average Review Rating Average Rating 7/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Harper Perennial

Published : 2008, 1966

Copyright : J. G. Ballard 1966

ISBN-10 : PB 0-586-02419-0
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-586-02419-5

Publisher's Write-Up

From the author of the Sunday Times bestseller Cocaine Nights comes an acclaimed backlist title - the extraordinary vision of an African forest that turns into crystal - now reissued in new cover style.

Through a 'leaking' of time, the West African jungle starts to crystallize. Trees are metamorphosed into enormous jewels. Crocodiles encased in second glittering skins lurch down the river. Pythons with huge blind gemstone eyes rear in heraldic poses. Most men flee the area in terror, afraid to face what they cannot understand. But some, dazzled and strangely entranced, remain to drift through this dreamworld forest. There is a doctor in pursuit of his ex-mistress, an enigmatic Jesuit wielding a crystal cross, and a tribe of lepers searching for Paradise!

About the Author:
J.G. Ballard was born in 1930 in Shanghai, where his father was a businessman. After internment in a civilian prison camp, he and his family returned to England in 1946. His 1984 bestseller Empire of the Sun won the Guardian Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was later filmed by Steven Spielberg. His most recent novel is the Sunday Times bestseller, Cocaine Nights.

'Beautifully rendered! Ballard the poet in full ecstatic blast.'

Anthony Burgess

'Of all the unknown regions Ballard's imagination has opened up, this crystalline forest is the most haunting, with its golden orioles frozen in a lattice of jewels and men like conquistadores embalmed in diamond armour. The creation of the crystal world is something magical and not to be missed.'


'Brilliantly imagined, dark, brooding, convincing and powerful.'

New Statesman
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Mathew Strowbridge (090111) Rating (7/10)

Review by Mathew Strowbridge
Rating 7/10
By the publication of his third disaster novel in 1966 J G Ballard had already conscribed two visions of dystopia in The Drowned World (1962) and later The Burning World (1964). Cementing this loose trilogy, The Crystal World provided a critique of human interference with the earth that was proved as sceptical as its predecessors.

But, unlike these earlier ventures that both invoked visions of worlds close to apocalypse, The Crystal World was strikingly little removed from the world of its conception. Taking much of its tone and imagery from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the novel was Ballard's first attempt to imagine a society not centuries of even decades away but one that vividly reflected the present.

A western doctor, Edward Sanders, is summoned to the continent in search of two colleagues (his mistress, Suzanne Clair, and her husband, Max) both who, like the novel's protagonist, are working on leprosy communes.

Journeying with, but not accompanying, him, a Catholic Priest and a shady, diminutive businessman appear drawn equally to the Mont Royal region of the jungle. Yet Sanders is unable to gather exactly what is attracting such attention.

What he discovers is in an area cordoned off by the local army, behind which the environs of the Gabonese jungle slowly morph into a new crystalline tissue. The novel explores the effects of this surface decaying virus and its spread through foliage and humans alike. Like the lepers that Sanders has left behind, Africa is swiftly overcome by the swell of consumptive contagion.

Rather than throw forward a science-fictional view of the world, Ballard was more interested in studying the decay of the current post-industrial civilisation. His ideas, albeit inexplicably, seem to hinge upon the idea of a subjugated Africa, exploited under the diamond trade. Ballard satirised the effects of the insatiable greed that such a culture provoked.

Africa, it is revealed, reflected "an earlier period of our lives... an archaic memory we are born with of some ancestral paradise". And, in The Crystal World, it becomes the backdrop for an instinctive hominal greed that otherwise lies unacknowledged beneath decorous society.

Ballard explored the dysfunction of humanity and the relationship of the human body to society. As if in a new fall from grace, those infected become re-aware of the physicality of themselves and the authors used such epiphanies to illustrate the development of new relationships between the human decaying bodies and the surrounding world that they inhabit. It was a technique that he used again in his next novel Crash, and one that would foreshadow his work throughout the remains of the twentieth century.
Mathew Strowbridge (9th January 2011)

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