Cocaine Nights - J. G. Ballard

I'm finally working through a few books by "famous authors who are influences on William Gibson". William Burroughs was a bit of a disaster. Ballard looked potentially tricky, so I went for one of his more conventional novels.

This book is not surreal, unlike much of his other work. In fact, it's rather more hyperreal than surreal. It's a ray-traced pile of chrome balls on a checkerboard versus the complexity of reality. A simplified model of the world to try an idea.

Cocaine Nights is ostensibly a whodunnit, set in the ex-pat community on the Costa del Sol. In reality, it's a musing on the nature of crime, and the environments of retirement communities. It makes me think of a generation-earlier version of Chuck Palahniuk - indeed there are thematic similarities to Fight Club.

For all that, it's a rather staid, repetitive novel. Perhaps this is a commentary on those timeless retirement communities where nothing changes. The crime involved has an airless quality, colour drained by the sun. Much of the repetition can be laid at the feet of the protagonist, who is fascinated by the underworld. It seems that it's this character's voice, rather than the author, who is bludgeoning the message home rather artlessly.

It's a funny book. Not quite the whodunnit it suggests, unsubtle in its motives and message but restrained in its detail. The writing is enjoyable and brings in a good sense of place. I feel I now need to read a bit more Ballard to separate out the novel from the author.

Posted 2017-05-28.