Thursday, 14 July 2011

JG Ballard - The End of an Era?

Hot on the heels of the demolition of Land’s End, the house featured in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel, The Great Gatsby, comes the news that yet another landmark of our literary heritage is in danger of destruction.

The book world is abuzz with the news that the modest suburban home of the novelist and futurologist, JG Ballard, has been put up for sale, almost 2 years after his death.  Bought in 1960, Ballard lived in the three-bedroom, semi-detached house in a quiet corner of Surrey, England, for 49 years, until he succumbed to prostate cancer in 2009.

Many of his most famous dystopian novels, including Crash and Cocaine Nights, were written in this house, whose walls also bore witness to Ballard’s personal struggles (after the sudden death of his beloved wife, Helen, in 1964, Ballard was forced to assume the role of single parent, raising his three children alone).

So attached was he to the house, he refused to move away, even as his novels were gaining widespread critical and commercial success. Throughout his life, Ballard resolutely eschewed all temptation to upgrade to a grander abode more fitting to his burgeoning bank balance.

The reason for Ballard’s steadfast refusal to move away from this ramshackle house can be found in his firm anti-consumerist beliefs.  He disliked the rampant consumerist nature of our society, and unlike many famous ‘objectors’, he truly practised what he preached.  Neighbours speak of the old broken-down car that sat in the driveway for fifteen years, or the ancient unicycle which has stood in the crowded hallway for just as long.  The paint in the tiny bathroom upstairs has been on the walls since the 1960s, and the stair carpet, which is barely tacked to the floor, is a danger to all and sundry.  The interior of the house has remained untouched for decades, and as such, it is a place of deep fascination to Ballard fans. This goes a long way to explaining why the proposed sale of this Ballardian relic is causing such widespread consternation.

Fearful that the interior of the house will be altered by new owners, thereby destroying an important literary legacy, Ballard’s fans have organised a campaign to raise funds to buy the property.
  If successful, they propose to preserve the property as a Ballard museum, which will undoubtedly become a must-see destination for the novelist’s innumerable devotees.  But, given that the sale of this house is generating widespread interest, Ballard’s fans may have a battle on their hands.  Ironically, for a man who was so against materialism, potential buyers of ‘Old Jim’s’ former home do not seem at all discouraged by the £320,000 price tag …

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