Millennium People

Millennium People

2.5 2
by J. G. Ballard
     
 

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"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

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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
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393081770
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
07/05/2011
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

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