James Graham Ballard, who wrote Empire of the Sun, the story of the fall of Shanghai as experienced by Jim Graham, a young English boy, has died at 78.
Last year we quoted Philip Hensher, who wrote about Ballard -
No one would be allowed to have J. G. Ballard’s career nowadays. When you consider the life of the average English novelist, what Cyril Connolly called the poverty of experience seems almost overwhelming, as the budding writer moves from school to university to a creative writing MA and on to the two-book contract. It is as thin a body of lived experience as the average Labour Cabinet minister possesses.
Reading J. G. Ballard’s autobiography, you sometimes need to pause to remind yourself just how young he was at the time of many of the atrocious events described. At the point where most English autobiographies are just beginning, as the subject leaves university, enough horror has been lived through by Ballard to supply a lifetime’s imaginative transformations.
Perhaps because of this, Ballard had a "darkly surreal" and "apocalyptic" vision that was visible in books such as The Drowned World, Crash, the Atrocity Exhibition, the Concrete Island and Day of Creation.
In his sequel to Empire of the Sun Ballard described returning to England to live after the war. The book, The Kindness of Women, has been called "wise and penetrating".
Ballard lost his wife to pneumonia when their three children were young. He brought his children up alone, an experience he described as 'the most important' of his life".
Ballard was terminally ill with cancer when he wrote Miracles of Life. Hensher commented,
This is a remarkable autobiography, treating events which most of us can barely imagine with tranquil dignity and exactness. . .It ends with a moving tribute to the doctor who has made this final work, with its highly un-Ballardian title, possible.
It has been a great career, and despite the wildness and provocations of many of his books, Ballard has carried out Matthew Arnold’s imprecation to ‘see life steadily and see it whole’.
Ave atque vale.