Audiobook Review: Millennium People by JG Ballard

12 03 2012

Millennium People by JG Ballard

Read by David Rintoul

AudioGo

Length: 8 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Literary Mystery

Quick Thoughts: While the satire sometimes falls flat, and the outrageousness gets muted by the bland lead character, there is something quietly compelling about Millennium People that kept me actively anticipating the next level of the plot intractably developed by Ballard. Ballard pulls together aspects of his past work, especially his early Dystopian and the psychosexual elements of Crash, to present an eerily predictive look at Middle Class disquiet.

Grade: B

JG Ballard is an author that defies labeling. His early work is remarkably full of science fiction, with some of the more fascinating and weirdest apocalyptic scenarios written. He has written about a world where everything is turning to crystal, and an apocalyptic vision where the wind juist begins increasing until it devastates the planet. His catastrophe novels where full of social commentary, and fascinating concepts pushed to their extreme. Then their came Crash., a bizarre, psychological examination of people who get turned on by car crashes. Ballard then went on to write in a vast array of genres. In many of his novels, like the brilliant High Rise, he examines the urban life of modern man, nd it’s ability to adapt to extreme situations. In many ways, Ballard became both the champion, and biggest critic of the middle class. Ballard has always fascinated me, and when I saw that Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Cold Reviewer was offering one of his final novels, Millennium People, for review, I had to snatch it up.

I have trouble affixing a good label on Millennium People as far as genre. It has elements of a modern set dystopia, with touches of the psychological thriller. It’s got an underlying mystery that drives the narrative, but for a great portion of the book, that mystery is pushed aside to handle to sociopolitical elements of the story. At it’s core, it is the story of a man, David Markham, who is personally investigating a bombing at Heathrow Airport that killed his ex-wife. To do this, he becomes involved in domestic protest groups, looking for groups with a penchant for violence. Markham’s motivation for this investigation is sort of hazy. In many ways, it seems that the drive to find his ex-wife’s killer is more to fill a psychological hole made from his resentment of her, as well as the not to subtle manipulation of his current wife. One of the problems with the overall story is that for it to work the way that Ballard wants, it necessitates a bit of a bland character, and since this character is the perspective for the story to unfold, it gives what could be a fascinating plot, a sort of blandness of it’s own. Some of the characters that should be outrageous, and compelling become dulled through the perception of Markham. Yet, there are moments when this blandness helps accentuates the dark humor, allowing what would be normally be mildly amusing to actually become laugh out loud funny in contrast to the rest of the plot. As David becomes more and more engrossed in the protest movements, he becomes less and less sure he is truly working undercover to discover the truth behind his wife’s murder, or actually becoming a player in the disquiet. Ballard’s novel is amazingly prophetic. While written in 2003, it eerily predicts the working middleclass angst that you see in movements like the Tea party and Occupy, despite their differing politics. The theme that the middle class is the new proletariat resonates through the book, with the working people of Chelsea Marina rising up in protest against both the Bankers, as well as the governmental support of the impoverished.  Ballard balances this nicely, particularly in the guise of Richard Gould, who preaches that the only affective violent protest is the unreasonable, unpredictable act. While the satire sometimes falls flat, and the outrageousness gets muted by the bland lead character, there is something quietly compelling about Millennium People that kept me actively anticipating the next level of the plot intractably developed by Ballard. Ballard pulls together aspects of his past work, especially his early Dystopian and the psychosexual elements of Crash, to present an eerily predictive look at Middle Class disquiet.

David Rintoul offers a soft, understated reading of Millennium People that matches the tone and feel of the novel just right. His voice had a way of lolling you, almost relaxing you, allowing you to separate yourself from the characters, and view the plot in almost a role of omniscient observer. For some stories this sort of separation would do a disservice to the plot, but here it actually works, Rintoul never blows you away, even his reading of the final bit of action is subtle and dispassionate, but I personally believe this is how this story should be read. I think there is a bit of a desire to label this novel and it’s reading boring. It’s not. While the main character is bland, and the plot subdued, I found myself reflecting on the issues of this novel more than I do on most works full of nonstop action, and explosions.

Note: I reviewed this title as part of AudioJukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer Program. That’s to AudioJukebox and AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title fro review. To learn more about the program and find Audiobook titles for review click on the Image below.

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