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Review-a-Day
The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, January 15th, 2002


 

Super-Cannes

by

A review by Michael Upchurch

There are many good reasons to read J. G. Ballard. But the best may be the chance of running into lines like "Paul, these bullets — don't get too involved with them" and "The sea was smooth enough to xerox, a vast marbled endpaper." Both come from the latest nightmare romp by the British author (Crash, Empire of the Sun) whose name is synonymous with utopias run amok. And both are redolent of a psychological displacement that makes Ballard's fictional world like no one else's — a place where a young wife, presented with evidence of a bloodbath near her swimming pool, merely deems it wise not to get "too involved"; a place where even the beauty of the sea is best appreciated in terms of office machinery.

Super-Cannes picks up where Ballard's previous novel, Cocaine Nights (1998), left off — but this time, instead of targeting a retirement community on Spain's Costa del Sol, Ballard has trained his sights on a high-tech business park, Eden-Olympia, overlooking Cannes. Especially amusing is his nonstop homage to the French Riviera of writers past. Particulars on Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's high life there, for instance, make it clear that their Côte d'Azur is as remote from Ballard's brave new corporate world "as the casino at Monte Carlo was from the temple of Karnak." After all, in Eden-Olympia — where "work is the new leisure" — who has time for the beach? For all its tongue-in-cheek humor, an urgency underlies this cautionary tale about the corporate-political power vacuums that emerge when people are so consumed by their jobs that they have no time left for social connection. Super-Cannes may spell out a few of its points too starkly, but it has plenty of piety-blasting fun along the way.


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