Chris Beckett provides a close reading of the manuscript draft of Crash by J G Ballard, focussing on the novel's opening pages.
In ‘Memories of Greeneland’ (1978), J G Ballard wrote that he had been ‘enormously influenced by [Graham] Greene's style, by his method of setting out the psychological ground on which his narratives rest. Within the first paragraph of a Graham Greene novel one has an unmistakable feeling for the imaginative and psychological shape of what is to come.’ Consider, then, the uncanny image of Dr Laing on his balcony at the beginning of High-Rise, squatting ‘beside a fire of telephone directories, eating the roast hind-quarter of the Alsatian before setting off to his lecture at the medical school.’ We are familiar with the individual elements that compose the picture – balcony, fire, telephone directories, eating, Alsatian dog – but we are unfamiliar with their combination, their manner of linkage, and we look to the impending narrative to decode what is going on. The more words we read – the larger the sample – the easier it should be to crack the narrative code. Or consider Paul Sinclair's paradoxical insight on first meeting the ‘amiable Prospero’ Dr Wilder Penrose at the beginning of Super-Cannes: ‘Only when I learned to admire this flawed and dangerous man was I able to think of killing him.’ The twists and turns of the story that follows will gradually unpack this psychopathic conundrum, chapter by chapter. These two very brief examples from Ballard's fiction intimate in their different ways – by vivid tableau, by knot of words – the ‘psychological shape’ of the respective narratives that follow. They open the door, as the first words of any fiction must, to the elaboration of meaning. And Crash, it seems to me, also bears out the influence of Greene's first-paragraph psychological imperative.
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