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Miracles Of Life


When he was a boy, the author of Empire of the Sun lived the fall of Shanghai in grisly and excruciating detail. Now he has described the horrors he could not write about earlier. The Spectator's Philip Hensher describes JG Ballard and his last book, Miracles of Life -

No one would be allowed to have J. G. Ballard’s career nowadays. When you consider the life of the average English novelist, what Cyril Connolly called the poverty of experience seems almost overwhelming, as the budding writer moves from school to university to a creative writing MA and on to the two-book contract. It is as thin a body of lived experience as the average Labour Cabinet minister possesses.

Reading J. G. Ballard’s autobiography, you sometimes need to pause to remind yourself just how young he was at the time of many of the atrocious events described. At the point where most English autobiographies are just beginning, as the subject leaves university, enough horror has been lived through by Ballard to supply a lifetime’s imaginative transformations.

. . . This is a remarkable autobiography, treating events which most of us can barely imagine with tranquil dignity and exactness. It is, Ballard says, his last book; he is terminally ill with cancer, and it ends with a moving tribute to the doctor who has made this final work, with its highly un- Ballardian title, possible. It has been a great career, and despite the wildness and provocations of many of his books, Ballard has carried out Matthew Arnold’s imprecation to ‘see life steadily and see it whole’. This is an unforgettable farewell.