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Cocaine Nights Hardcover – May, 1998

3.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When travel writer Charles Prentice arrives at Estrella de Mar, a resort town near Gibraltar populated primarily by British retirees, to find out why his brother Frank has been jailed, he's shocked to find that Frank has confessed to a spectacular act of arson that left five people dead. Charles tries to find the real culprit by hanging around Estrella de Mar, which one resident describes as "like Chelsea or Greenwich Village in the 1960s. There are theatre and film clubs, a choral society, cordon blue classes.... Stand still for a moment and you find yourself roped into a revival of Waiting for Godot." But the longer he stays, the more confused Charles is by the residents' breezy lack of concern about the constant background of vandalism, rape, prostitution, and drug dealing.

Things become clearer as Charles makes the acquaintance of local tennis pro Bobby Crawford, who has some interesting hypotheses about how to maintain the quality of the inner life in the age of affluence. As another of the locals explains, "Leisure societies lie ahead of us, like those you see on this coast. People ... will retire in their late thirties, with fifty years of idleness in front of them.... But how do you energize people, give them some sense of community?" Bobby's succinct answer, provided to Charles in another context: "There's nothing like a violent reflex now and then to tune up the nervous system." Bobby convinces Charles to help him replicate his social experiment in an adjacent retirement community, slowly convincing him that crime and creativity really do go hand in hand. But who, if anybody, takes the responsibility?

Cocaine Nights resonates quite neatly with Ballard's earlier science fiction and experimental stories. As early as The Atrocity Exhibition, Ballard was speculating about the salubrious effects of transgression, and his science fiction novel High Rise also deals with the introduction of violence to a self-contained paradise. Cocaine Nights differs from that earlier work primarily in that it is a naturalistic fiction set in a world that is much more ostensibly real, a world that, with a little less detached theorizing (even at his most natural, it seems, Ballard cannot help but be clinical) on the part of its characters, might even be mistaken for real. --Ron Hogan

From Publishers Weekly

This new novel by the celebrated nihilist who brought us such underground classics as Crash and Concrete Island is fairly mild by Ballard standards. It involves kinky goings-on in a wealthy British resort community in Gibraltar, where there's not much to do but suntan, get high and play sex games. Narrator Charles Prentice is a travel writer who has been summoned to Estrella de Mar by his brother, the manager of the Club Nautico, who has confessed to setting a fire that killed five people in the villa of the wealthy Hollinger family. Charles knows Frank didn't do it, and so does everyone else, so Frank's motivation is a mystery. The delinquent shenanigans around town soon point to Frank's devoted tennis pro Bobby Crawford, who, with the missionary zeal of a sociopath, rouses the anesthetized residents of Estrella de Mar with violence and fear. "You've seen the future and it doesn't work or play. People are locking their doors and switching off their nervous systems. I can free them," Crawford says. Ballard keeps the dialogue snappy and true; however, the leisurely pace, the comings and goings of this Porsche and that BMW, all the swimming and tennis practice sap the novel of any tension. Moreover, Charles is a dud; the charge inherent in one of his first sentences, "My real luggage is rarely locked, its catches eager to be sprung," is never borne out by his actions or the relationship between him and his brother. Ballard's fascination with the illicit plays like a routine exercise, though his bleak picture of trouble in paradise has the ring of truth.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; 1st Counterpoint ed edition (May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 188717866X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1887178662
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #932,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
And this is a brilliant novel of what lies under the thin veneer of civilisation that we all wear, an edgy exploration of the the violence that lies within us all. His usual sparkling, deceptively simple prose is here, together with a thrilling murder story, off-beat characters and a threatening air of menace lurking by the pools and apartments of the up-market retirement village. Ballard is tragically under-read, and I urge you to read Cocaine Nights, one of the best books of the 90s, and then move on to his other novels, particularly The Drought and High Rise, and then devour his short stories, which are nearly all perfectly crafted gems.
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Format: Hardcover
i have always been intrigued with the themes and topics ballards works have been dealing with. nevertheless, most of his novels could not satisfy me completely. COCAINE NIGHTS changed that. ballards' amazingly beautiful and poetic descriptive way of writing, a story about tomorrow's society set in our present, the dark side that lurks in each one of us. all of the above come together in this novel, and make COCAINE NIGHTS wahat i would consider ballards flagship work. reminiscent of FIGHT CLUB. great stuff.
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Format: Paperback
Yes, there is plenty of humour in J G Ballard's caustic dig at British ex-pat life on the Costa Del Sol but despite the claims of `dazzling originality' and `exhilarating imagination' it is instead a good but fairly conventional detective novel, very much in the English vein. Charles Prentice arrives in Estrella Del Mar, an outwardly genteel community of retired British professionals, where his brother Frank has confessed to starting a horrific fire which kills the Hollinger family. Frank was the manager of Club Nautico, the nerve pulse of the community, and nobody believes his confession, not even the police. As the Spanish police are ineffectual and disinterested Charles plunges into some clumsy amateur sleuthing to try and save his brother. However, he discovers that behind the façade of respectability the town is a hotbed of decadence and crime peopled by amoral and feckless egoists.
There is a popular tradition in English writing that enjoys depicting tranquil and genteel rural communities as a veneer for all manner of nefarious and murderous activities. An apposite comparison to Cocaine Nights would be ITV's Midsummer Murders series where deranged psychotics hell-bent on revenge lurk behind twitching net curtains or in watercolour classes. In Estrella Del Mar the principal force for good or for evil - depending on your point of view - is the implausible, floppy-haired, tennis playing Bobby Crawford who doubles as a burglar, high-powered drug dealer and pornographer. Charles is fascinated by the man and his motives and gradually becomes sucked into the dark underbelly of Estrella Del Mar and nearby Residencia Costasol forgetting about his brother languishing in jail.
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By A Customer on November 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
The cinematic beauty of the early apocalyptic books has been replaced by a stripped down, suburban set of tennis courts, retirement homes, and fancy boats. The locals are bored into a catatonic slumber which can only be awakened by crime, violence and perversion. The delinquent instigators use communal participation as a way of bonding the spectators into a mass ritual of performace art where crime is the main event. Ballard fans will find the familiar themes of deviancy, crowd control, and city anarchy. Judged on these merits the book is a solid addition to his works. The weaknes lies in the narrator's too predictable behavior and his fall into temptations that are by ballard's own fictional standards rather tame. For sheer outrageousness, it is hard to top the deviancy and perversity of CRASH.
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Format: Paperback
Cocaine Nights is a potent combination of a dry wit, a penchant for the grotesque, a piety to the tradition of hardboiled fiction, and a satirist's eye for examining the culture of leisure.

First and foremost, Cocaine Nights is a well spun mystery. The narrator, a jaded travel writer whose brother has been accused of an horrific arson that resulted in multiple deaths, consistently over-estimates his own intelligence and trips over his own feet while trying to clear his eerily indifferent brother of the charges. Along the way he hooks up with his brother's ex-mistress, develops a fixation on the charismatic young tennis pro at the resort his brother manages, and gets entangled in all the twisted psychosexual games being played in the luxury development where his brother lived and played.

Episodes of decadence and nihilistic brutality are woven into the tale so casually it's possible to do a double take pages later as the implications of some transgression--a beating, an act of emotional sadism, a brutal rape that is filmed by a "film club"--finally sinks in. Ballard is a master of transgressive fiction in the sense that he writes fiction first so that the full impact of this or that depraved act sneaks in and the reader is forced to confront not only the society Ballard is satirizing but her own ability to overlook horrorshow cruelty in favor of an engrossing narrative told by a charming if unreliable narrator.

The books denouement is powerfully effective.

Readers who enjoyed Super-Cannes should read CN and anyone who enjoys CN ought move on to Super-Cannes.
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