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Monday, December 9, 2019

The Atrocity Exhibition (Experimental Ficton)

by J. G. Ballard 

Publisher: Flamingo; 60064th edition (May 21, 2004)

Softcover, 192 pages.

Amazon Listing

“Impossible Room: In the dim light he lay on the floor of the room. A perfect cube, its walls and ceilings were formed by what seemed to be a series of cinema screens. Projected on in was a close up of Nurse Nagamatzu, her mouth, three feet across, moving silently as she spoke in slow motion. Like a cloud, the giant head moved up the wall behind him, then passed across the ceiling and down the opposite corner.  Later the inclined, pensive face of Dr. Nathan appeared, rising from the floor until it filled three walls and the ceiling, a sow mouthing monster.”
To call this book a novel may be a bit of a misnomer. It may be a series of interconnected short stories. It may be, as the author claims, a number of “condensed novels”. Or they may be a series of short vignettes under a blanket tarp. What it can be clearly called is, “experimental fiction”. If you’re not interested in a book that plays with forms, themes, functions, and reality, then you will not want to read this book.
If you are worried about things like plot or character development then you are reading the wrong book. There is no clear beginning or end to the book, and it does not follow any of the standard novel conventions. The main character, Talbert (?) changes name with each chapter, just as his role and his visions of the world around him seem to change constantly. If you insist on a plot, then you must look on it as a man having a series of nervous breakdowns in a mental hospital, or a man who is manipulating reality to cause World War Three.
If you are wondering how such a book became an underground classic, it's all due to shock value. Like Gravity’s Rainbow and Naked Lunch, the unconventional prose is riddled with sexually explicit descriptions and activities. So much was packed in that the book was brought up on various obscenity charges and banned in a host of countries, thus immortalizing it.
The author himself suggest reading it by randomly flipping pages and only taking in those snapshot scenes which catch the eye. This might be the best way, as going through it sequentially is a chore. Another flaw is that this is an obviously boomer book to appeal to the boomer generation. Constant references to people, images, and events from the sixties dates the book severely. While older, well read, people will recognize most of them, but you’d be surprised how many have forgotten them completely.
The book has seen various publications over the years, and various parts have been printed in magazines. Each addition seems to add a little to the whole of the book. Every “chapter” is followed by annotations (many of which are more interesting than the actual text), while the RE/Search edition added a series of stimulating photographs and illustrations. So you’re exact experience with this book will differ greatly depending on which edition you read.
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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