The appeal of Empire of the Sun crossed many spectra. It echoes themes and images of Ballard’s other works, and it is tempting to say that this autobiographical novel reveals the sources of many of those images. Although the general biographical facts of Ballard’s life parallel Jim’s, most of the time spent in the Lunghua camp is omitted from the narrative. (Some of that time is dealt with in this book’s sequel, The Kindness of Women, published in 1991.) The narrative concentrates on Jim’s perceptions more than his experiences, often giving events a surrealistic tone. The impression of surrealism is abetted by the detailed descriptions of Jim’s environment, especially of people’s physical appearances, uniforms, and aircraft.
Ballard’s approach to women is reverential, even when Jim’s dealings with them have been less than favorable. Principal among these women is Mrs. Vincent, with whose family Jim is quartered for the last two years of the war. Jim declares his fondness for Mrs. Vincent, although of no one else in her family, because she, like him, “appreciated the humor” of the Lunghua prison camp. Being able to appreciate humor in an absurd situation is a trait common to many of Ballard’s characters and is essential to reading many of his other works, especially his “paste-up” novels such as The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) or Vermilion Sands (1971).
It is the British and their...
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