William Boyd reads a characteristic JG Ballard story, dominated by image and symbol rather than character and narrative, ‘My Dream of Flying to Wake Island’
In the short history of the short story – not much longer than 150 years – very few writers have completely redefined the form. Chekhov, pre-eminently, but also Hemingway and Borges. JG Ballard has to be added to this exclusive list, in my opinion. Ballard’s models for his haunting stories are closer to art and music, it seems to me, than to literature. These are fictions inspired by the paintings of De Chirico and Max Ernst, which summon up the mesmerising ostinatos of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Character and narrative are secondary – image and symbol dominate with a surreal and hypnotic intensity, and the language reflects this. Ballardian tropes – empty swimming pools, abandoned resorts, psychotic astronauts, damaged doctors, the alluring nihilism of consumer society and so forth – are unmistakably and uniquely his. "My Dream of Flying to Wake Island" is a true Ballardian classic.