Super-Cannes, p.1J. G. Ballard
An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
77–85 Fulham Palace Road,
London W6 8JB
This edition published by Fourth Estate in 2014
First published in Great Britain by Flamingo in 2000
Copyright © J. G. Ballard 2000
The right of J. G. Ballard to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988.
Introduction © Ali Smith 2014
‘The Enormous Space’ © J. G. Ballard 1989
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.
HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this e-book has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication.
Cover by Stanley Donwood
Ebook Edition © May 2013 ISBN: 9780007322183
Table of Contents
Introduction by Ali Smith
1 Visitors to the Dream Palace
2 Dr Wilder Penrose
3 The Brainstorm
4 A Flying Accident
5 The English Girl
6 A Russian Intruder
7 Incident in a Car Park
8 The Alice Library
9 Glass Floors and White Walls
10 The Hit List
11 Thoughts of Saint-Exupéry
12 A Fast Drive to Nice Airport
13 A Decision to Stay
14 Riviera News
15 A Residential Prison
16 Widows and Memories
17 Refuge at La Bocca
18 The Street of Darkest Night
20 The Grand Tour
21 Drugs and Deaths
22 The Roof Deck
23 The Confession
24 Blood Endures
25 The Cardin Foundation
26 Flying Again
27 Darkness Curves
28 Strains of Violence
29 The Therapy Programme
30 Nietzsche on the Beach
31 The Film Festival
32 A Dead Man’s Tuxedo
33 The Coast Road
34 Course Notes and a Tango
35 The Analysis
37 A Plan of Action
38 The High Air
39 A New Folklore
40 The Bedroom Camera
41 The Streetwalker
42 Last Assignment
‘The Enormous Space’ by J. G. Ballard
About the Author
Also by the Author
About the Publisher
A NOTE ON the local geography. Frequent visitors to the French Riviera will be familiar with Marina Baie des Anges, the vast apartment complex that lies like a second Colosseum under the Nice Airport flight path. The Pierre Cardin Foundation, at Miramar to the west of Cannes, is difficult to find but well worth a visit, and must be one of the strangest buildings in Europe. Port-la-Galère, nearby, is another architectural oddity, with its honeycomb facades worthy of Gaudi.
Antibes-les-Pins, at Golfe-Juan, is part of the high-tech Côte d’Azur that is rapidly replacing the old. An even better example, and the inspiration for Eden-Olympia, is the landscaped business park of Sophia-Antipolis, a few miles to the north of Antibes.
Super-Cannes is a luxury enclave on the heights above the Croisette, but the term might well refer to that whole terrain of science parks and autoroutes on the high ground above the Var plain. Together they make up Europe’s silicon valley, a world away from the casinos and belle époque hotels that define the Riviera of old.
Nostalgic Aviation, a cheerful museum of aircraft memorabilia, stands at the entrance to Cannes-Mandelieu Airport, and is a haven for flying buffs. On the new Riviera, even aviation is now consigned to a fondly remembered past.
BY ALI SMITH
‘There’s something about the novel that resists innovation,’ J. G. Ballard said. He said it more than once; it was something he was fond of saying even as he himself innovated, working away beneath and pulling up the floorboards of literary tradition, one eye on the contemporanea his novels happened to inhabit and the other on a very different clock, one ‘whose movements are virtually imperceptible but which cover giant periods of time as the human race evolved.’ Super-Cannes, which he published on the cusp not just of a new century but a new thousand years, makes inquiry into both – the time we inhabit and our place in evolutionary terms. It parallels the ancient mysteries of Eros and Thanatos alongside what’s called human progress. It rewrites (it seems literally to do this as it unfolds) the speed and expectations of English narrative while examining our warmth towards, our desire for, and the naivety and comfort in our nostalgia about, the novel form.
It’s as if he’s questioning the form’s uses to us, now, the postmodern, evolved, post-Nietzschean so-civilised human beings of the beginning of the next millennium, as he put it in an interview with John Gray:
We inhabit a house in which there are rooms that have never been unlocked, down in the basement. Now and then we’ve had a glimpse in these rooms and there are strange old cabinets and odd musical instruments. What sort of tunes do they play, one wonders, lying in the dust? … There is a darker corner of the human psyche which intrigues us, and which we feel might benefit us if we started to explore it. It’s almost a kind of murder mystery investigation. A crime happened, perhaps, or some strange event in the human past, and we are drawn to try and understand what happened.
What will happen when we go down to play in the dark of the self? What will happen when Nietzsche collides with the expectations of the super-rich exclusive-set beach-read? This: a brilliant hybrid, a glistening, riotous and deadpan piece of visionary slipstream – a brand-new kind of crime novel. Super-Cannes is the keystone of Ballard’s trilogy about gated communities, along with Cocaine Nights (1996) and Millennium People (2003), all three of which examine, via this gated microcosm, time, crime and psychopathology. It takes as its subject the liberal (seeming) nature of the giant corporations up against the truth about human instinct and human nature.
An exemplary good sort called David Greenwood has run amok, killing several work colleagues in Eden-Olympia, a science/business park plus paradisal residential complex nestling among the swimming pools in the hills above Cannes in the well-heeled south of France. Paul, an aviator who has badly damaged his knee (in a crash in a plane before it even left the ground), and his new and much younger wife, Jane – the middl
Jane is taking Greenwood’s job. They inherit the mystery. Why would a good man living in a ‘suburb of paradise’ go mad, they wonder, looking down at how the ‘hundreds of blue ovals trembled like damaged retinas in the Provencal sun.’
The very first paragraph announces a collision between notions of heaven and territories of mental state. It declares a ‘waiting madness’, a ‘state of undeclared war’. It veers, in a few lines, from heaven via psychiatry all the way to murder, asking the question along the way about what shape an ‘intelligent city’ might take and tossing in – quite casually – a collision of ancient and modern cultural and aesthetic references from the mythical god of communication and the dead via the surrealists to The Tempest, the last of Shakespeare’s own late romances. This novel is full of resonances from and references to novels and texts (as well as all the film narrative riffs which might be expected in any suburb of Cannes); it’s actually a very bookish novel; a library literally litters it: Defoe, Saint-Exupéry, Connolly, Fitzgerald, Greene, Spark, Hardy, Stevenson, Proust, Conrad and Carroll – above all, Carroll: since this is a novel which deals simultaneously with the form’s real and seeming innocences, its nostalgias, its fetishised and subterranean urges, with its own very specific ‘Alice library’ at its core.
‘The French see the Alice books as a realistic picture of English life,’ Wilder Penrose says. He’s the park psychiatrist, the mindman, the Prospero, or puppetmaster, or God, of Super-Cannes (and a clinical, rational, reassuringly white-coated version of Angela Carter’s foul and clever dream-inventor in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman).Names of characters in Ballard’s work tend to be almost camp in their resonances; the corrupted good man is inevitably called Greenwood, the protagonist and his wife have single-syllable-resonance names rather like children just arrived in this heaven/hell from a ‘How To Read’ infant primer. Penrose himself bears the name of one of the few truly revolutionary British surrealist artists of the twentieth century. But even here Ballard wants something beyond expectations. He wants a wilder Penrose, something even more surreal than surrealism itself, and maybe also a wilder kind of pen, to rise to the challenge of this newfound mystery territory (not forgetting all the attendant sexual punning too).
It looks, on the surface, like naturalism. It’s not long before it’s become much richer and stranger, a prose that reads as part clinical, part ritualised. But even as it’s all being spelled out to us, in a prose so seemingly utilitarian that it hides nothing, and even with our rather lame protagonist, a pawn ‘primed with fresh information’ so holy-fool-like that he blurts out the truth every time he gets closer to the mystery, something begins to form that’s well beyond the genred notions of murder mystery, something mysteriously uncategorisable (well, as anything other than Ballardian). Meanwhile Super-Cannes acts as fictive parody, even self-parody, with as many warnings and Scooby-Doo clues and red herrings as the average Agatha Christie.
Its warning is both melodrama and truly urgent. ‘Read this … you may be in danger.’ Its revelation is the dilettante, distracting nature of the usual kinds and mechanics of fiction. ‘Satisfied that I had virtually solved the mystery, I took a rose from the vase on the hall table and slipped it through my buttonhole,’ Paul says, like an idiot, on only page 50 in a novel which, while pointing out the inescapability of role, anatomises all role play and performance in a determination to get closer to what acting and action really are. Such solvings, such performances of control act as distractions from a frank reality which, as Ballard is at pains in his foreword to point out, is the root source of this thriller that writes itself, foresteps its own footprints, lets us know repeatedly, ritualistically, fetishistically, like a dripfeed, that we’re only being told so much, then unwinds like an increasingly wild and fevered nightmare in a prose so spareseeming and at the same time so near parody that the baroqueness of the truth, and its simultaneous mundanity, aren’t so much revealed as simply apparent, if we just look.
It’s a display of narrative’s irrelevant yet crucial effect on its readers in the face of the open secret, the lack of mystery at the heart of this novel, where Penrose, in Ballard’s brilliant anatomising of psychopathy, simply legitimises every possible taboo and crime in the name of entertainment – or maybe even just the dispelling of boredom.
In this, Super-Cannes performs, critiques, then effortlessly outsteps expectations of the novel form. Angela Carter, who recognised Ballard as one of the writers ‘the times shine through … so that we think they see more clearly than we do, whereas in reality they are making us see more clearly’, quotes him in an essay she wrote in the Orwell year, 1984: ‘I wanted a revolutionary fiction; I wanted the recognition of the whole domain of the unconscious, something British naturalistic fiction never attempted. I wanted a fiction of the imagination which would tell us the truth about ourselves.’
Will Paul escape? What will happen, in the novel’s vicious circling? ‘High up here in Super-Cannes, nothing matters.’ Its revelations aren’t revelations – deep down we knew them all along – and they’re coruscating, blasting, and very everyday. Its long-view version of the human story blows the fictions out of the water. It both rips up and pays homage to the library. It tells no lies. It transforms the act of fiction. What a great novel.
Quotes are from Extreme Metaphors, and Shaking a Leg: Angela Carter’s Collected Journalism and Writings
Visitors to the Dream Palace
THE FIRST PERSON I met at Eden-Olympia was a psychiatrist, and in many ways it seems only too apt that my guide to this ‘intelligent’ city in the hills above Cannes should have been a specialist in mental disorders. I realize now that a kind of waiting madness, like a state of undeclared war, haunted the office buildings of the business park. For most of us, Dr Wilder Penrose was our amiable Prospero, the psychopomp who steered our darkest dreams towards the daylight. I remember his eager smile when we greeted each other, and the evasive eyes that warned me away from his outstretched hand. Only when I learned to admire this flawed and dangerous man was I able to think of killing him.
Rather than fly from London to Nice, a journey as brief as a plastic-tray lunch, Jane and I decided to drive to the Côte d’Azur and steal a few last days of freedom before we committed ourselves to Eden-Olympia and the disciplines of the Euro-corporate lifestyle. Jane was still unsure about her six-month secondment to the business park’s private clinic. Her predecessor, a young English doctor named David Greenwood, had met a tragic and still unexplained death after running amok with a rifle. By chance, Jane had known Greenwood when they worked together at Guy’s Hospital, and I often thought of the boyishly handsome doctor who could rouse an entire women’s ward with a single smile.
Memories of Greenwood were waiting for us at Boulogne as the Jaguar left the cross-Channel ferry and rolled its wheels across the quayside. Going into a tabac for a packet of Gitanes – illicit cigarettes had kept both of us sane during my months in hospital – Jane bought a copy of Paris Match and found Greenwood’s face on the cover, under a headline that referred to the unsolved mystery. As she sat alone on the Jaguar’s bonnet, staring at the graphic photographs of murder victims and the grainy maps of the death route, I realized that my spunky but insecure young wife needed to put a few more miles between herself and Eden-Olympia.
Rather than overheat either Jane’s imagination or the Jaguar’s elderly engine, I decided to avoid the Autoroute du Soleil and take the RN7. We bypassed Paris on the Périphérique, and spent our first evening at a venerable hotel in the forest near Fontainebleau, spelling out the attractions of
The next day we crossed the olive line, following the long, cicada miles that my mother and father had motored when they first took me to the Mediterranean as a boy. Surprisingly, many of the old landmarks were still there, the family restaurants and literate bookshops, and the light airfields with their casually parked planes that had first made me decide to become a pilot.
Trying to distract Jane, I talked far too much. During the few months of our marriage I had told my doctor-bride almost nothing about myself, and the drive became a mobile autobiography that unwound my earlier life along with the kilometres of dust, insects and sun. My parents had been dead for two decades, but I wanted Jane to meet them, my hard-drinking, womanizing father, a provincial-circuit barrister, and my lonely, daydreaming mother, always getting over yet another doomed affair.
At a hotel in Hauterives, south of Lyons, Jane and I sat in the same high-ceilinged breakfast room, unchanged after thirty-five years, where the stags’ heads still gazed over shelves stocked with the least enticing alcohol I had ever seen. My parents, after their usual bickering breakfast of croissants and coffee helped down by slugs of cognac, had dragged me off to the dream palace of the Facteur Cheval, a magical edifice conjured out of pebbles the old postman collected on his rounds. Working tirelessly for thirty years, he created an heroic doll’s house that expressed his simple but dignified dreams of the earthly paradise. My mother tipsily climbed the miniature stairs, listening to my father declaim the postman’s naive verses in his resonant baritone. All I could think of, with a ten-year-old’s curiosity about my parents’ sex-lives, was what had passed between them during the night. Now, as I embraced Jane on the parapets of the dream palace, I realized that I would never know.
Super-Cannes by J. G. Ballard / Science Fiction / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes