Review: Millenium People

The set up grabbed me from the start. The idea of a middle class revolting against itself for unknown reasons is at once absurd and dead on for our times.

One thing I truly love about Ballard is his understated dead-pan humor. Take, for instance, when the protest at the cat demonstration turns violent. The final image he leaves us with is the overwhelming smell of cat urine. There's a wonderful absurdity to that moment.

My one critique is that at times the novel felt a bit inflated. That is, there were several points when I felt like it didn't need to be as long as it was. It felt like Ballard was trying blow up or extend what was really a much shorter story.

This is a problem that sometimes comes up for me with Ballard. I remember feeling this way with Crash as well and even at times with Concrete Island. He makes his cultural critique very well and very early, but then much of the novel seems to rehash it without developing it much further.

In this case we have the Chelsea Marina riot as a statement about middle class ennui. Ballard expertly portrays this as heroic and absurd at the same time. The characters are rebelling because they have been turned into hollow consumers, slaves to a culture that has turned them into "the new proletariat." That resonates and at the same time seems ridiculous--like starting a revolution because of "first world problems."

This is great and I love the way Ballard riffs on this. K Chruchill's rants against traveling, dinner parties, personal hygiene--all stand-out moments that make you reach for the pencil to underline and jot notes in the margin. But then about midway through, it feels almost as if Ballard is just rehashing and repeating the same ideas. They start to feel less fresh and don't begin to complicate in any real way.

Truth be told, he does allow the theme to evolve, incorporating the idea that the ultimate meaningful statement is meaningless violence. There's a tenuous connection between those two ideas and I like that. It left me thinking about whether there truly was something essential there. This final image of a "sun without shadow," the idea that the most effective protest is one that is meaningless--I like that, and it makes a compelling statement about the larger ideas of protest, terrorism and middle-class malaise. It's just that I have to wonder whether that statement could have been made just as well in a short story. Possibly, but still, the experience of reading a Ballard novel is always time well spent.

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