EPS Review #76 - The Kindness of Women

The Kindness of Women, by J. G. Ballard, HarperCollins 1991

What a pleasure to sink one's teeth into an event-filled autobiography like this one, with the added expectation that it will have plenty of love in it as well. I have not read Empire of the Sun, but recognised from the movie the luxurious house on the outskirts of Shanghai, populated mostly by James and his nanny Olga, young and predatory and aware that the war is coming. She undresses with the door ajar, her way of "proving to herself that [ the boy ] no longer existed." I also liked the city-wide tag game he played with his friends, the description of the bomb that fell downtown, and the prison camp scenes featuring the too-mature-for-him Peggy.

When the war is over (he imagined he could see the flash from Nagasaki), James walks out of the prison camp a bit early. At a train station he meets a couple of Japanese torturing a Chinese to death with wires. This probably did not cause his morbid streak, but became an emblem of it. He goes to Cambridge and studies medicine, which means dissecting (the only female) cadaver. Luckily there he meets fiery Miriam, a lovingly-depicted woman he eventually marries. Sadly, she dies very unexpectedly on a family beach holiday with the children in Spain. From then on Ballard's life gets so determinedly weird it seems more like a novel than nonfiction. It all fits too nicely with his psychological explanations, for one thing. There is his obsession with car crashes, and his nutso friends hunting each other with cars across London. There are his filmed acid trips. And there are some extremely clinical sex scenes, often with women who are taking pity on him. The filming of the movie (his cameo was cut) constituted some sort of cathartic near-return to Shanghai for him. Or so he says. The writing is vivid, and I would like to read the earlier work as well, though it will be a while before I can stomach another dose of his obsessions.

Patricia fell in love with the theme music "Suo Gan" from the "Empire of the Sun" movie. Here is the music with the excellent free Sibelius Scorch music add-in.