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Concrete Island: A Novel Paperback – October 5, 2001

3.8 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Visionary of both style and substance . . . the literary equivalent of Salvador Dalí or Max Ernst.” ―The Washington Post Book World

“Ballard's novels are complex, obsessive, frequently poetic, and always disquieting chronicles of nature rebelling against humans, of the survival of barbarism in a world of mechanical efficiency, of ethropy, anomie, breakdown, ruin . . . The blasted landscapes that his characters inhabit are both external settings and states of mind.” ―Luc Sante

About the Author

J. G. Ballard is the author of numerous books, including Empire of the Sun, the underground classic Crash, and The Kindness of Women. He is revered as one of the most important writers of fiction to address the consequences of twentieth-century technology. His latest book is Super-Cannes. He died in 2009.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (October 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031242034X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312420345
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in Shanghai in 1930, J. G. BALLARD is the author of sixteen novels, including "Empire of the Sun," "The Drowned World," and "Crash." He lived in London until his death in April 2009.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Gosh, I hate to see this great, little book slammed or passed over because people were unaware of what they were getting themselves into when they bought it.
Some of the negative or lukewarm reviews are correct in that those readers obviously did not like certain elements of the book, notably the lack of logical narrative progression or fuller character development but they are mistaken to consider these peculiarities of style as deficiencies worthy of criticism. This book is not intended to be a straightforward adventure story or a character driven drama, or even a novel with some surrealistic elements.
Concrete Island, like Ballard's most popular book Crash, is a novel length exploration of abstract concepts wrapped in a traditional narrative format. Consider Ballard's earlier, short science-fiction stories, where a characters' specifics are more or less incidental to the situations in which they are placed. Or his later short works where characters are no more than conceptual cyphers or sometimes just a specific instance of a notional character spanning across several stories.
With that in mind, the events and settings are supposed to be surreal and incomplete. The characters are supposed to be unrealistic and uni-dimensional. You aren't supposed to identify with anyone or anything, at least not physically, and then only to the extent that you might become aware of forces acting in your own life or impulses in your own psyche which these fantastical situations and characters represent.
So if you are familiar with Ballard's other work, or are interested in Ballard but want something a bit more approachable than, say, Crash or Atrocity Exhibition, then you will really enjoy Concrete Island - its relatively tight and fast moving, much more fleshed out than his shorter works with plenty for your brain to chew on for a while, but without frying your mind as much the Ronald Reagan-Liz Taylor psychosexual stuff.
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Format: Paperback
J. G. Ballard's "Concrete Island" is, essentially, an adaptation of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, updating the story from the seventeenth century to the 1970s and relocating it from a remote desert island to West London. Yes, that's right. West London.

The "island" on which the action takes place is a triangular section of fenced-off wasteland formed by the intersection of two motorways. The protagonist of the story, Robert Maitland, is marooned on the island when his car crashes. An injury to his leg leaves him unable to climb the fence or steep banks which surround the island, and the fact that it is screened from public view means that he and his car are unlikely to be seen from the surrounding roads. His irregular home life also adds to his predicament. He has both a wife and a mistress, and spends time living with both women, who are seemingly happy with this arrangement. His disappearance therefore goes unnoticed for some time, as both women assume that he is with the other. Maitland is forced to survive on what he is able to find on the island. He discovers, however, that he is not its only inhabitant; he shares it with Jane Sheppard, young women of good family on the run from a failed marriage, and Proctor, a mentally handicapped former circus acrobat.

The setting of the story is absolutely precise, both in place and time. Maitland's crash occurs at the intersection of the Westway and the M4 Motorway soon after three o'clock on the afternoon of Thursday 22nd April 1973 (a year before the book was published). Or, at least, it purports to be absolutely precise, but Ballard's opening paragraph contains two deliberate mistakes. In reality, April 22nd 1973 was not a Thursday but a Sunday- in fact, it was Easter Day. And at no point does the Westway intersect with the M4.
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Comment 11 of 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
Our physical nightmares nowadays are usually imposed from the outside: terrorism, plagues, stray asteroids, footloose vampires, these are the agents of horror. Another literary thread--starting, I suppose, with Poe, continuing through Ambrose Pierce, and going on to William Golding--deals with the nightmares we can create for ourselves, in isolation or in small groups. With "Concrete Island," first published in 1973, J.G. Ballard carries forward this latter tradition, but in a postmodern environment of superhighways, abandoned outbuildings, and rippling plains of weeds. The book itself is as constricted and airless as the story it tells, and won't be to everyone's taste. But if your appetite is whetted, read "Concrete Island." Ballard is a master of his genre.
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Format: Paperback
Ballard's universe is a cruel, airless and peculiarly British place, even when his dramas occur in an unspecific everywhere, a generalized Euro-city on the edge of decay. I looked forward to reading "Concrete Island" as it sounded so preposterous, and therefore possessing one of the qualities of Ballard's best stories. Reading him at his best is thrilling, like watching a circus performer on a tightrope. You're aware how precarious it must be keeping everything in the air and stable, yet also appreciating the secret art of it, aware that it's supposed to look hard. The illusion doesn't quite succeed here. It is not quite the masterpiece "Crash" was, though it does share many of that books disturbing themes. He describes a world exactly like our own, yet drained of empathy and common purpose. People, like the figures who populate the "island", scratch about to survive, forced to compete violently and self-destructively for resources while the rest of us, oblivious, rush off to appointments or home for dinner. This is one of the most obviously and persuasively political of Ballard's books. It is however a pity, and a familiar limitation of his writing (and SF generally) that at no time do the characters transcend their function in the novel's machinery and step out to become fully formed creations. He is a writer of images and ideas, obsessively visual and descriptive, but oddly lacking in the ability to give his characters independant existence.
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