Not long after J G Ballard’s death, I was exchanging emails with Mike Moorcock, one of Ballard’s oldest and best friends. The avuncular old gent at whose feet Will Self and Iain Sinclair sat, Mike warned, was a carefully managed fiction.
Well, John Baxter’s book firmly sees off that avuncular old gent – and how. The Ballard who emerges from it is a drunk, a woman-beater, a liar, a humbug, a borderline plagiarist, a self-publicist, a bully, a philistine, a racist and a misogynist. Much of the work is expressly or implicitly dismissed as second rate, too: the productions of an adman rather than an artist.
The contours of the established legend – as promoted by said adman – are well known: the childhood in Japanese-occupied Shanghai; the death of his wife, Mary, while his children were young; the New Worlds years, with Ballard ‘Merlin to Michael Moorcock’s Arthur’; the 9am glasses of scotch;