Millennium People

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Overview

"Terrifying and strangely haunting. . . . A riveting work from a writer of rare imaginative largesse, a bearer of bad tidings, unforgettably told."—Daily Telegraph
The explosive J.G. Ballard renaissance, which began with the 2009 publication of The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard, continues with the appearance of Millennium People, Ballard’s first new novel to be published in America in nearly a decade. No writer, certainly no fiction writer, has examined in recent times the profound social malaise of the middle...
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Millennium People

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Overview

"Terrifying and strangely haunting. . . . A riveting work from a writer of rare imaginative largesse, a bearer of bad tidings, unforgettably told."—Daily Telegraph
The explosive J.G. Ballard renaissance, which began with the 2009 publication of The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard, continues with the appearance of Millennium People, Ballard’s first new novel to be published in America in nearly a decade. No writer, certainly no fiction writer, has examined in recent times the profound social malaise of the middle classes as presciently as Ballard, whose penultimate novel, Millennium People, a brilliant political satire, is filled with stunning psychological insights, twisted humor, and unrelenting suspense.
When a bomb goes off at Heathrow Airport it looks like another random act of violence to psychologist David Markham. But then he discovers that his ex-wife Laura is among the victims. Following a police lead that suggests the explosion was not the work of a foreign terrorist, but instead a shadowy and ruthless group based in the comfortable Thameside estate of Chelsea Marina, Markham begins to infiltrate London’s fringe protest movement.
Led by Richard Gould, a charismatic pediatrician turned cult leader, the clandestine group aims to rouse London’s squeezed middle classes to anger and violence, to free them from both the self-imposed burdens of civic responsibility and the trappings of a consumer society: private schools, foreign nannies, health insurance, and overpriced housing. But when Markham becomes enamored with an exotic film studies professor who moonlights as a terrorist cell leader, he too gets caught up in the idealistic campaign spiraling rapidly out of control. At last succumbing to the irresistible charms of Gould, the group’s leader, Markham abandons his original investigation to give his unyielding support to the uprising, becoming an active participant in the process.
As widespread rioting erupts and England’s capital city becomes a crucible of existential rage, a frenzied English populous begins destroying the very symbols that define their middle-class status, setting fire to Volvos, destroying travel agencies, and smoke-bombing department stores. In an unnerving and prophetic ending that is so jarring it will resonate well beyond the confines of fiction, Millennium People becomes more than a novel; it becomes a shockingly plausible, deeply unsettling vision of society in collapse, one that, in the words of John Gray in the New Statesman, “dissects the perverse psychology that links terrorists with their innocent victims.”
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The middle class launches a violent revolution in this prophetic satire by the late master Ballard (1930–2009). David Markham, a psychologist, infiltrates the "rebellion of the new proletariat" at—naturally—a cat show, looking for the architects of the Heathrow Airport bombing that killed his ex-wife. What he finds are a bored coterie of suburbanites: charmingly unhinged academic Kay Churchill, biker-priest Stephen Dexter, and Kurtz-figure Richard Gould, who dreams of liberation from the 20th century. As David's spying becomes increasingly participatory, his actions begin to worry his second wife, Sally, who may herself be at risk of being swept up in Richard's plans to expand his campaign of structured "pointless violence." Ballard is a British Philip K. Dick, heir to Conrad and H.G. Wells, in whose stories the present, taken to extremes, anticipates the future. In fact, the only complaint to be made of this bruisingly smart novel is that it has taken eight years for it to appear in the U.S. (July)
Esquire [UK]
“Ballard, acutely fierce as ever, detonates a bomb under Middle England in his continuing attempt to shock the middle classes out of complacency and into violent struggle.”
The Guardian
“Much of the fun of Millennium People—and it is one of the most amusing novels I've read in a long time—comes from watching as the world finally catches up with Ballard and Ballard, wryly, reacts.”
The Scotsman
Ballard is a natural surrealist; his is a world where the unthinkable is commonplace and rationality chucked in the towel long ago.... Ballard's phrasing is as sure as ever. He writes wonderfully well about London. His characterization is as vivid as it is strange. An extremely unsettling novel. Reading it is like having all the planks that underpin your life removed one by one and being forced to confront the brutality and emptiness that lies below.— John Preston
Daily Express
Ballard's flowing prose exerts its usual hypnotic spell and there are many darkly beautiful moments.— Andrew Martin
The Economist
“Wonderfully warped, blackly comic! written with Ballard's customary panache, its potent mix of sex, violence and radicalism will keep his fans happy. Millennium People is at once deadly serious and slightly ridiculous—and somehow all the more unsettling for it.”
The Independent
Millennium People will compete with the best of contemporary British fiction.— Ian Thomson
John Preston - The Scotsman
“Ballard is a natural surrealist; his is a world where the unthinkable is commonplace and rationality chucked in the towel long ago.... Ballard's phrasing is as sure as ever. He writes wonderfully well about London. His characterization is as vivid as it is strange. An extremely unsettling novel. Reading it is like having all the planks that underpin your life removed one by one and being forced to confront the brutality and emptiness that lies below.”
Andrew Martin - Daily Express
“Ballard's flowing prose exerts its usual hypnotic spell and there are many darkly beautiful moments.”
Ian Thomson - The Independent
“Millennium People will compete with the best of contemporary British fiction.”
Library Journal
This posthumous novel by master of edgy fiction Ballard is as intriguing as it is perplexing. Opening with a lethal bombing at Heathrow Airport, the plot proceeds in an evolution of increasing violence verging on farce, as a middle-class revolt unfolds in the Chelsea Marina housing complex in London. Led by a likable pediatrician who turns out to be more evil than genius, well-to-do people are leaving their jobs, burning their cars, torching their foreclosed houses, and bombing public landmarks in a reaction against meaningless bourgeois culture. The tale is narrated by psychologist David Markham, who joins the protestors in an effort to get to the bottom of things after discovering that his ex-wife was among the victims in the initial Heathrow bombing. This work echoes the themes of Ballard's more controversial Crash but in a much less visceral way. However, though the sex may be secondary and the violence abstract, there is the same sense of subversive risk and the same focus on accidental wounds and their psychological effects. VERDICT Important Briticisms may be lost on American readers, but no library should pass on this last quirky take on the problems of the new century from one of the great virtuosos of 20th-century fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/11.]—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos P.L., CA
Library Journal
British author Ballard (Empire of the Sun) died in 2009. But his reputation is just starting to pick up here after the 2009 publication of The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard. In this novel, published in Great Britain in 2003 to considerable acclaim, an explosion at Heathrow takes the life of psychologist David Markham's ex-wife. In response, he infiltrates the antigovernment group responsible for the bombing—and begins to fall under its sway. Typical bleak and edgy Ballard and a book I especially want to see.
Kirkus Reviews
Terrorism, dysfunction, malaise, dyspepsia and rioting on the streets of London. If that sounds familiar—well, welcome to Ballard's (Cocaine Nights, 1998, etc.) prophetic view of our time.

Ballard, who died in 2009, revolutionized science fiction by, in part, making it less fictiony and more plausible—and, usually, more frightening in the bargain. Moreover, he was a keen observer of the real world. Both qualities inform this book, in which a police psychologist/spy infiltrates a band of suburban, well-heeled terrorists who have been bombing various English locales and otherwise spreading mayhem. Led by—naturally—a psychotic pediatrician, the group's stomping ground is a once-tony suburb haunted by "likeable and over-educated revolutionaries" who had fled in the night, leaving it now a "deserted estate, an apocalyptic vision deprived of its soundtrack." David Markham is still engaged enough to seek justice, battered enough to be deeply cynical in the face of all the noise and rhetoric on the part of the vegan self-actualizers, neo-hippies and weekend white Rastafarians who face him, to say nothing of the bureaucrats at his back. When his ex-wife is killed in a bomb attack, he stirs into more action among the "lumpen-intelligentsia," falling in with a particularly alluring cougar of an academic bent—so much so that, to teach film theory, she put her class to making pornos. ("They loved it," she says, "but the dean of studies wasn't impressed.") Is she the one behind the reign of terror, the bombs in every Vauxhall? Or is it Chelsea Marina's resident cleric, "one of those priests who feels obliged to doubt his God"? Or is it an agent provocateur, determined to seize the opportunity to strengthen the government's hand? Ballard takes his fine time to straighten the story out, and the resolution is not at all what we might expect. Several characters die along the way, but the main victim of all the mischief, Ballard seems to say, is the middle class, the backbone of a self-doubting England: "I had overturned cars and helped to fill Perrier bottles with lighter fuel, but a tolerant and liberal society had smiled at me and walked away."

Vintage Ballard, smartly observed and tartly written. Let's hope there's more in the vault.

The Barnes & Noble Review
In this, his last novel, the darkly comic Millennium People, J. G. Ballard returns to many of the themes that have established him as one of the twentieth century's principal chroniclers of modernity as dystopia. Throughout his career Ballard, who died in 2009, wrote many different variations on the same theme: a random act of violence propels a somewhat affectless protagonist into a violent pathology lurking just under the tissue-thin layer of postmodern civilization. As in Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974), the car parks, housing estates, motorways, and suburban sprawl of London in Millennium People form a psychological geography. At its center, Heathrow Airport—a recurrent setting for Ballard—exerts its subtly malevolent pull on the bored lives and violent dreams of the alienated middle class.

Millennium People begins with the explosion of a bomb at Heathrow, which kills the ex-wife of David Markham, an industrial psychologist. The normally passive Markham sets out to investigate the anonymous bombing and the gated community of Chelsea Marina, a middle-class neighborhood that has become ground zero for a terrorist group and a burgeoning rebellion of London's seemingly docile middle class. Exploited not so much for their labor as for their deeply ingrained and self-policing sense of social responsibility and good manners, the educated and professional residents of Chelsea Marina regard themselves as the "new proletariat," with their exorbitant maintenance and parking fees as the new form of oppression, their careers, cultured tastes, and education the new gulag.

In the company of a down-and-out priest and a film professor turned Che Guevara of the Volvo set, Markham quickly discovers that the line between amateur detective and amateur terrorist is not so clear, as he is drawn deeper into acts of sabotage and violence against the symbols and institutions of his own safe and sensible life. Targets include: travel agencies, video stores, the Tate Modern, the BBC, and National Film Theater—all "soporifics" designed to con people into believing their lives are interesting or going somewhere.

Like Crash—in the person of Vaughn, the deranged prophet of auto-Armageddon-— Millennium People features a messianic and charismatic leader who acts as Virgil to the protagonist's Dante. Here, the psychotic pediatrician Dr. Richard Gould emerges as the dangerous mind behind the Chelsea Marina rebellion and its parallel bombing and vandalism campaign, a new form of terrorist violence that draws its power from the absence of any real motive. Rather than shocking the middle classes out of their complacency, with these attacks Gould desires nothing less than the destruction of the twentieth century itself, which he sees as a black hole in history pulling Western civilization ever closer to absolute zero. Culminating with a senseless killing that that closely mirrors the real-life murder of British TV presenter Jill Dando, these spasmodic destructions are emblematic of a perverse confusion of terrorist and victim, in which "the most pointless acts" are the only way to "challenge the universe at its own game."

In his work Ballard has depicted a future-—and now a present-—with disturbing prescience and clarity. Posthumously released in America, Millennium People arrives at a time when the foundations that support our own middle classes feel more unsettled than ever, and the specters of apocalyptic obsession and the nihilism of consumer culture all bear an increasing resemblance to the world Ballard has been creating in one fiction after another—or perhaps warning us about. —Will Menaker
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393081770
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/5/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

J.G. Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930 and lived in England from 1946 until his death in London in 2009. He is the author of nineteen novels, including Empire of the Sun, The Drought, and Crash, with many of them made into major films.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Middle Class In Revolt?

    It took some 8 years for this book to come over the pond, and it would not bother me if it waited another 8. More social commentary than novel, it tells us that the middle class will revolt once they are brought to realize how much they hate their lives. I did get a laugh now and then as the author has a wicked sense of humor at points. All in all, though, it was a pretty boring read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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