Monday, 20 September 2010

Empire of the Sun - J G Ballard

ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!! 7.35pm and only 3 people in attendance. Including me! Not a good start. However we had all read the book so there was nothing to do but to see whether we could actually make the meeting last for more than 10 minutes.

The book was suggested by a member of the group (who was in attendance) who had read it before a number of years ago. It is set in Shanghai during the second World War and is loosely based on Ballards early childhood experiences. I hadn't heard of Ballard until recently and hadn't read any of his books. This may sound strange but I'm an avid reader of books based around the second World War, I hadn't really come across any books that were based around China during the war and so was looking forward to reading it. As my husband said it was 'right up my street'.

As said above the book was based on real life but Ballard had apparently 'pumped up' the content and also removed Jims parents for most of the story. Despite this however I didn't feel emotionally connected to the story and this was a point that the 3rd member of the group agreed with me on. Ballard described harrowing experiences - death marches, starvation, but I was left feeling cold by the characters. You didn't sympathise with them. The person who suggested the book commented that Ballards other writings were supposedly quite surreal so perhaps this was his style slipping through into an otherwise true to life book. We believed that the Vincents, who Jim shared a room with in the camp were in some way the true representatives of Ballards actual experiences during the war.

We spent a lot of time discussing Jims character and I was surprised by how many points we actually raised. We started commenting on the fact that Jim, despite being quite a young boy when the book starts never seemed to be afraid. He witnesses the violent bombing and sinking of a ship, loses his parents and finds himself the only British face in an ever increasing hostile environment yet takes it all in his stride. We decided this was probably because of his upbringing. He had until that point lived quite a sheltered life and was from a seemingly middle if not upper class family. I thought the part where they witnessed the ship sinking was very monumental. It was almost as if Jim was watching his life as he knew it disappear as from that point onwards things would never be the same again. Even when the War ended life didn't really return to normal for him as he would return to England.

We discussed how strange it was that Jim seemed to be obsessed with Planes and how he almost idolised the Japanese despite them being the enemy. The term Stockholm Syndrome was brought up and to some extent we all agreed that Jim exhibited several signs however even before the war he idolised planes and the Japanese fighter pilots. We also discussed the similarities between Base and Jim. Does Base put up with Jim because he seems himself when he was a young boy? How even was the relationship between the two? How much of what Base tells Jim does Jim actually believe?

We were all very disappointed by the ending. It seemed to be rounded up very quickly as though he didn't know how to end it. It just seemed so unrealistic that his parents should suddenly reappear. Was this because he was writing from his own experiences and obviously real life don't have endings as such? Perhaps this is why there is a follow on book called the Kindness of Women. Although none of us had read it to pass further comment.

Overall we gave it a rating 7.5 with marks ranging from 7-9. I have to say that Sharon had the book with the best cover. It was a plain white picture lined in thick black that made you just want to pick up a pen and start colouring it in. Very unusual. All in all meeting was quite a success and of respectable length! Other members have been in touch since so hopefully this is the last time we will only have 3. More posters up in Sainsburys just in case me thinks!

Check out our next book its Wedlock by Wendy Moore and meeting will be Thurs 21st Oct at 7.30 in Plough if you are interested.....