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Book Review: The Unlimited Dream Company by J G Ballard

I have to confess until I stumbled upon it in what I now appreciate was an act of supreme serendipity, I had never heard of this, one of J G Ballard's least known books - but boy I'm so glad I did.

My local library just so happened to have a copy of this little book sitting unprepossessingly on its shelves, hiding away as t'were from the world, a prize awaiting only the most diligent explorers. "What do we have here?" said I upon spying said book, an Indiana Jones on the verge of extracting this rare and precious artefact from the dusty shelves in which it might have laid entombed for centuries.

If you can possibly imagine what a Salvador Dali painting might look like in the printed word, then that gives some idea of what we have here. Disorientation by the spadeful, for some readers the sheer artistry of this novel might prove too much. Me, I simply adored it.

When the central character of this book crashes a Cessna light aircraft into the Thames at Shepperton, what follows is a compelling blend of parable, fable and just downright hallucination. Nothing is quite as it seems in this quiet, riverside town. The pilot - Blake - instantly assumes the role of Pied Piper, a man who will lead the people of this unassuming town to places they may or may not wish to visit.

One of the most tantalising propositions of this book is working out whether Blake is a force for good or evil. Invigorating Shepperton with hordes of exotic animals and plants - birds and fish - transforming the suburban town not only physically but psychologically, Blake's power appears absolute - at least within the confines of this riverside town. And outside its boundaries? Would his power be as potent? We assume not.

In Blake, Ballard paints a frightening portrait of the human ego. The amateur pilot so in love with flying, so in tune with nature, able to cure the sick and raise the dead even, is a character driven by an idealism that is frankly disturbing in its intensity. Grandiose to the point of deluded, Blake has a mission: to help the citizens of this small town to reach their apotheosis - whether they want to or not.

Re-reading this astonishing tour de force in 2021 it's tempting to see Blake as a Bill Gates, Klaus Schwab or Tony Blair figure - evil dressed as good or vice versa? The parallels between Ballard's creation and the sociopaths of our era are considerable. Whoever or whatever Blake may or may not be his zealotry and sheer egoism certainly parallels that of the Microsoft founder/WEF chairman and former UK prime minister.

Beware, this is no ordinary novel. It is rich in suggestion, even richer in description. Ballard thoroughly enjoys himself describing the transformation of a dull home county commuter town into utopian jungle paradise. Some episodes simply take the breath away. Blake's transitions into a bird-on-the-wing, amphibian and finally a deer not only result in euphoria for the airman, but the reader too. Accountants and suburban housewives transmuting into eagles, cormorants and dolphins! Surreal does not even come close.

So just how the heck does one write a review about The Unlimited Dream Company? With an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy - that's how - as if one can't possibly hope to do justice to the breadth and depth of this literary tapestry. You just have to read it. Take this book and allow its power to infuse your soul. Just do it.

Me? I'm just surprised this book is not on every A Level and University literary course in the world. I mean the possible interpretations are endless. Is Blake a God or Devil? Discuss. The answers would be, well, unlimited . . .