Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Vermilion Sands

J.G. Ballard Vermilion Sands (1971)
I'm not sure quite why it's taken this long for me to get around to reading J.G. Ballard, but this one - picked from the shelf of Oxfam in Coventry purely because it was Ballard and it was there - probably wasn't the greatest place to start. Vermilion Sands comprises short stories set in and around a resort populated by faded Bohemian types and the idle rich, a fantasy playground of the future as it is described on the jacket, and were this not the first thing I'd read by the guy I could probably confidently describe it as Ballardian by virtue of the cloud sculptures, singing statues, psychotropic houses and so on.
'Do you read a lot of poetry?' I asked, indicating the volumes around her.

'She nodded. 'As much as I can bear to.'

I laughed. 'I know what you mean. I have to read rather more than I want.'

Oh someone peel me a grape, for fuck's sake! Whilst it's all very imaginative and beautifully written, like most utopias of the idle rich, it's also extraordinarily dull, regardless of the surrealism. In fact it's kind of like reading one of those fucking awful David Hockney paintings of a Californian swimming pool. It's not totally without merit, obviously, but Roxy Music's In Every Dream Home a Heartache - which does roughly the same thing - lasts five minutes rather than two hundred pages. I think part of the problem is that it's difficult to tell quite what Ballard is trying to say here, and a clue may be found in his preface which seems to suggest he rather longed after sipping fancy cocktails by the pool in the company of Joan Collins and Andy Warhol.

Where is Vermilion Sands? I suppose its spiritual home lies somewhere between Arizona and Ipanema beach, but in recent years I have been delighted to see it popping up elsewhere - above all, in sections of the three-thousand mile long linear city that stretches from Gibraltar to Glyfada Beach along the northern shores of the Mediterranean, and where each summer Europe lies on its back in the sun. That posture, of course, is the hallmark of Vermilion Sands and, I hope, of the future - not merely that no-one has to work, but that work is the ultimate play, and play the ultimate work.

T'rrific, and while we're at it lets also bring back that horrible seventies version of airbrushed deco illustration in which everyone is reduced to the fat pastel sausages of an extra from Yellow Submarine. Wouldn't that be just weapon, yeah?

I'm probably being overly harsh, or maybe I'm just too thick too have appreciated Vermilion Sands, but I really expected much more than an admittedly tuneful Ringo Starr solo album from this author. Moorcock did something similarly louche in his Dancer's at the End of Time books, but I found his version funnier and much more engaging. Sorry.

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